SACRAMENTO, Calif. – After a rough first day at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, the University of Arkansas Lady Razorbacks stepped up on day two highlighted by the 4×400-meter relay team’s four-second school record and Jodi Unger’s advancement in the pole vault in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.
The Lady Razorback relay of Sasha Rolle, Jessica Cousins, Paige Farrell and Tominque Boatright were up against a tough heat in the race, but earned the automatic qualifier by edging LSU at the finish to move on to the event finals on Saturday.
“What a race,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “This is the first time that we have run our top four runners on the relay and they were fantastic. I am especially proud of Paige and Tominque who came back after being disappointed yesterday and ran great legs today. It wasn’t that long ago that 3:30 put you on the award stand at the Olympics and World Championships, which tells you something about what these young ladies just accomplished.”
“I always said that this team could do something special if we got them all together,” Lady’Back associate head coach Rolando Greene said. “All year long someone was out of the lineup, but now that we have them all together you see what they can do. They are going to play on Saturday.”
Leading off with Rolle, Arkansas was in a good position coming off the final turn with Arkansas’ lone junior on the squad making up the stagger on Houston to its right. At the first exchange, Arkansas was with the leaders and handed to Cousins who returned to the Arkansas lineup for the first time since the SEC Championships where she hurt her hamstring and was carried from the track.
Running well on the opening turn, Cousins reached the break in second place five yards behind LSU. Making up some ground on the backstretch, Cousins made up even more on the curve and came off of the final bend and surprised her opposition by passing her over the final 50 meters to give the baton to Farrell in first place. In her first race back since the injury, Cousins put together an unreal split time of 52.30.
In first for but a moment, Farrell came around the first turn with a stride lead on LSU’s Juanita Broaddus before getting passed by the veteran 400-meter runner. Not allowing the setback to get her down, Farrell kept pace with Broaddus down the back stretch and into turn three, and then used the same tactic as Cousins to push herself down the homestretch shoulder-to-shoulder with LSU bringing a rise out of the large Sacramento State crowd.
The final exchange was simultaneous between Arkansas and LSU and pitted Boatright with 400-meter semi-finalist and all-American Deonna Lawrence. With inside position, Lawrence took the early lead by a stride allowing Boatright to tuck in and draft off the taller runner. Staying right behind her opponent through 300 meters, Boatright made her move on the homestretch bringing the crowd to frenzy. As the cheers erupted, Boatright caught Lawrence with 75 meters left and ran next to the LSU runner for the next 74 meters. At the finish, Boatright leaned past the LSU runner to gain the automatic qualifier and complete Arkansas’ four-second school record.
In what turned out to be an extremely long qualifying round of the pole vault just moments before the 4×400-relay began, Unger dealt with several delays and a tough afternoon of vaulting but still managed to be one of the 16 qualifiers to Saturday’s final. Clearing 13 feet, 5 ¼ inches on her third and final attempt, Unger was one of the final people to advance, much to the relief of the junior all-American. Making her first attempt at 12-9 ½, Unger would then clear 13-1 ½ on her second try. One of 21 over 13-1, Unger watched numerous misses by the field at her final height and knew that a clearance could move her into Saturday’s action. Setting up, Unger skipped and barreled toward the pit and soared over the bar to give her the third attempt clearance and qualify.
Arkansas’ only other competitor on the day, sophomore Dacia Barr ran a solid race, but a mistake in the final lap cost her the precious four-tenths of a second she needed to make the event finals of the 1,500-meter run. Running 4:21.36, Barr finished 13th overall and just outside the top 12 who qualified for the finals.
The Lady Razorbacks conclude their participation at the NCAA Outdoor Track Championships on Saturday with the 4×400 relay and pole vault. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.