SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Senior Aneita Denton received a great 22nd birthday present on Thursday evening, albeit from herself, when she ran the fastest qualifying time in the 800-meter semifinals at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif.
Denton cruised to a time of 2:04.01 to lead a star-studded field in the race. Despite a three-minute delay and a false start prior to her actual race, Denton took the lead at the break and raced around the first lap in 59 seconds. By the middle of the curve she had established a five-pace lead, an advantage that would remain throughout the final 350 meters of the competition.
“Aneita ran a very smart race,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “She established herself well right from the beginning and dictated what would happen. She’ll have her work cut out for her in the final, but should be well rested. Unfortunately, Erica (Sigmont) wasn’t able to move on, but she was right at her personal best, so she gave it all she could.”
Denton and Sigmont endured a very fast first 200 meters before the eventual heat winner took control of the race. The initial outpouring of energy hurt everyone in the field, but several were able to push through while several others fell off the pace slightly. Despite not making the finals, Sigmont still earns all-America honors in the event for being one of the top eight American finishers.
Pole vault qualifying featured all-American Stacie Manuel for the Lady Razorbacks and the Willmar, Minn., native did not disappoint as she looked very good in her clearances on way to a vault of 13 feet, 5 ¼ inches. Manuel was clean in all her attempts beginning at 12-9.5. She then made 13-1.5, again on her first attempt before making the final qualifying bar on her first try. Manuel is one of 14 pole vaulters qualified for finals action on Saturday.
Friday’s action began with the hammer throw where senior Brandy Blackwood ended her outdoor season with a toss of 177-8. Off her personal best and Arkansas record, Blackwood improved on each of her tosses finishing 25th overall, well out of the top 12 that moved on to Saturday’s final. The qualifying cutoff ended up at 194-8, which would have been a four foot personal best had she made the cut.
The lone scoring event for the Lady Razorbacks on Thursday came in the 10,000-meter run where seniors Alison Rush and Penny Splichal toed the line for their final outdoor track races. As the race began, all 27 runners ran as a pack for two laps before the field began to spread and a lead pack of 10 surged to the front. Rush and Splichal hung back in the next group which spread apart soon after. Both Lady Razorbacks failed to score in the event with Splichal finishing 18th in 34:30.15 and Rush in 21st at 34.55.14.
In the 1,500-meter run, freshman Dacia Barr got her first taste of NCAA competition as an individual. Barr ran with a pack that was on a blistering pace for the first 800 meters before falling off slightly. Falling all the way to the back of the field, Barr came on strong over the final 300 meters to pass four runners and run right at her career best at 4:25.65. Barr ran a scant seven hundredths of a second faster earlier this season to qualify for the championships.
The NCAA Championships continue on Friday with the heptathlon and 100-meter hurdle finals. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.