SACRAMENTO, Calif. – It took the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback track team four days to score a point, but between a school record in the 4×400-meter relay and a fifth-place finish by Jodi Unger in the pole vault, Arkansas moved from nowhere to 25th in the overall standings at the 2006 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif., on Saturday.
Entering the final day with just two chances to score, the Lady Razorbacks knew that they could get on the board, but the final tally of points was still very much in question. As the pole vault field dwindled, Unger came up with another gutsy performance to secure her place, and then watched the relay break the school record they set just two days ago to finish third and cap off a 10-point day.
“The mist exciting thing about this is that everyone is coming back,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “After the first day I was trying to find someplace that I could hide, but these young ladies really came through today. It is nice to know that we have a group of ladies that we can hang our hat on for next year and then add to that some additional scoring from our current team and potentially some from our incoming class.”
Arkansas’ relay broke the four-year-old school record at the Mideast Regional two weeks ago, and then pummeled that mark on Thursday by four seconds when it ran 3:30.32 during preliminary action. Saturday’s crowd of more than 9,000 at the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex saw the Lady’Backs race against the nation’s best and improve upon their record by more than a second when they crossed the finish in 3:28.78 to take third and earn all-America honors.
From the outset of the contest it was evident that it was going to be a tight race. Junior Sasha Rolle maintained Arkansas’ position through the first 200 meters, and then made a move down the homestretch to place the Lady’Backs in third at the exchange. Sophomore Jessica Cousins ran a conservative curve and slid to the inside lane in third at the break, slowly reeling in the Miami runner in front of her as she approached the third turn.
Continuing to press her advantage, Cousins put Paige Farrell in an excellent spot on the second exchange allowing the Springdale, Ark., native to catch Miami at the turn and sit on the runner around the curve. Slinging herself to the outside off the turn, Farrell would run shoulder-to-shoulder for second place and give the stick to a determined Tominque Boatright simultaneously as Miami countered with multi-time all-American Dominque Darden.
The Lady Razorbacks got their best split of the relay from Boatright as she clocked an awe-inspiring 51.02 on the final lap of the race, but despite her best efforts was nipped at the finish by Darden and Miami to give the Lady’Backs third place.
The pole vault competition was just as exciting for Unger and the Lady Razorback faithful. As competitor after competitor easily cleared the opening height of 12-11 ½, Unger found herself in a 13-way tie for first as the bar moved to 13-3 ½. Coming down on the bar with her first attempt at the height, Unger would sneak by the height on her second and she hit the bar, making it wobble, but not fall down. The first attempt miss however, placed the Abilene, Texas, native into a tie for eighth.
Moving up to 13-7 ¼, Unger would miss on her first, then had a rough second attempt that saw her start her approach, stop, go back to where she stared and try again, only to hit the bar on her way down. Needing a make to place herself in elite company, Unger came through with another third-attempt clearance, much like her effort in the event prelims to even make the finals, vaulting herself into fifth overall.
Only two competitors in the field would clear the next bar of 13-11 ¼, but Unger’s make loomed large as it added four points to the Lady Razorback cause and got them on the scoreboard.
The NCAA Championships conclude the Lady Razorback’s season, but for select athletes, the USA Senior and Junior Championships loom on the horizon, June 21-25, in Indianapolis, Ind. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.