FAYETTEVILLE – University of Arkansas senior Aneita Denton became the 11th Lady Razorback to win a national championship when she took the 800-meter crown at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville on Saturday evening in front of a tremendous crowd of 5,461 fans pacing the Lady Razorbacks to a 19th-place team finish.
Denton’s title is Arkansas’ first ever for the middle distance race as she becomes the fifth Lady’Back to claim a national title since the Randal Tyson Track Center opened in 2000. It is also the second title in as many years by a Lady Razorback as she follows in the footsteps of Veronica Campbell.
“We had a great weekend,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “We brought in eight young ladies and earned seven all-America honors. To finish 19th with four freshman at this meet is really something special.”
As the 800-meter contest began, Denton stayed with the leaders, but hung back from the front two. Running her third race in two days, she gauged her strength to make a push which came at the 400-meter mark. Rounding the frontrunners on the outside, Denton took the lead at 420 meters and opened up a small cushion as LSU’s Neisha Bernard-Thomas was on her heel.
Holding the advantage into the bell lap, Denton appeared to have used up her tank as Bernard-Thomas came charging with 100 meters to go, even running up to the shoulder of Denton, but a late push gave her the space she needed to claim her first national title and all-America honor in an individual event.
“That couldn’t have happened to a better individual,” Harter said. “Aneita deserved to win the national championship. She has worked really hard this year and winning the title is a testament to that work. I am so proud of her.”
In the pole vault, sophomore Stacie Manuel earned the second all-America honor of her career when she tied for seventh in the competition. Clearing 13-5 ¼, Manuel cleared all three bars she attempted heading into what would have been her career best indoor vault of 13-9 ¼. Matched by Georgia’s Kierney Hiteshaw, the duo were in a dead heat and each earned 1 ½ points to their team’s scores.
A pair of ninth-place finishes just missed the scoring as Brandy Blackwood and Beyonka McDowell competed in the weight throw and pentathlon, respectively. Blackwood continued to improve in her specialty as she broke the UA school record for the fourth straight competition when she tossed the 20-pound weight 68 feet, 6 ¼ inches. Shattering the mark she set at the Southeastern Conference Championships by more than a foot, Blackwood missed the scoring by just over a foot, but did earn an all-America honor for her efforts.
McDowell’s pentathlon was very strong, ranking third in the Arkansas record books. Scoring 3,973 points, McDowell was the competition’s best shot putter when she threw the spheroid 45-7 ¼, a mere ¾ of an inch off her UA record which she set at the SEC meet. Also taking one of the top places in the long jump with a leap of 19-5 ¼, McDowell was in prime position to score, but a stellar 800-meter run by most of the field dropped her to 13th overall as 10 competitors scored more than 4,000 points.
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