FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Arkansas Lady Razorback track and field team opened the 2008 indoor season with high hopes and found some of them met as the season progressed. The Lady’Backs concluded the indoor season with a 29th-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
UA took a major blow at the NCAA Championships, in terms of points, when Etienne Chaplin was unable to compete in the heptathlon because of an injury. With one of the largest contingents at the NCAA Championships, 12 athletes, and seven of the 12 earning All-America honors, head coach Lance Harter is proud and pleased with the way his team competed throughout the indoor season and at the NCAA Championships.
“We ended up with 12 kids qualifying for the national championships,” Harter said. “Seven of the 12 earned All-America honors. That’s the largest group of indoor All-Americans we’ve ever had. Again, we’re achieving great things, but if you just look at the national finish, being tied at 29th, that’s not indicative of what is really happening.”
Harter’s squad, a solid mix of sprinters, distance harriers, jumpers and throwers, opened the season ranked ninth in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association rankings and entered the NCAA Championships in the same spot.
“We were ranked as high as fourth in the nation, we got as low as ninth in the nation, and there just hasn’t been any notice of that,” Harter said. “It just got kind of skimmed over.”
Harter, along with his assistant coaches Rolando Greene and Bryan Compton, takes pride in building a well-rounded program that can compete in all three sports: cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field.
“There has been this age of specialization, teams concentrating on one season,” Harter said. “With our team, we want to be competitive in all three seasons. We want to be in the top 20 in cross country, indoor and outdoor. Last year, we were top 20 in cross country, indoor and outdoor. There were only four programs that did that: Michigan, Stanford, Arizona State and Arkansas.”
Finishing in the top 20 in each season is always a goal for Harter and his staff. This season was no different until a rash of illness and injury swept through the group.
“This year we were primed to do that again but it seems like we’ve been bitten by the bad luck bug,” Harter said. “In cross country, we were a trophy contender but fell to No. 13 after Dacia Barr’s surgery and Denise Bargiachi had the stomach flu at NCAAs. Indoor comes around and we’re ranked in the top 10. We have a top 10-type team and one of our top-ranked athletes can’t compete because of an injury.”
“We can’t afford to give those types of points away at the NCAA Championships,” Harter said. “That was something that was hard to realize. We work for such a premium of opportunities, and they come so rarely and they just don’t happen that often.”
Despite some unfortunate luck at the NCAA Championships, getting Denise Bargiachi into the meet was an added bonus. She was added into the meet in the 5,000 meters three days before the event was to take place.
“Denise was our last qualifier,” Harter said. “We weren’t notified until it was learned that a Michigan athlete unfortunately got hurt, so she got to advance on Tuesday and we notified her Tuesday night. We told her she was in the meet and get ready to run on Friday. Obviously, she rose up to the challenge and finished in 10th place.”
“What was really special was that we explained to her, every person you pass now is a victory,” Harter said. “Where you came from and your high school prep career as a developing athlete to now as a junior in college, you made these huge strides. And a lot of times people just don’t realize. We have lots of those types of stories, walk-ons to All-Americans.”
Now with the outdoor season upon us, Harter, his staff and a very talented roster of athletes look to carry on momentum generated during the indoor season into the outdoor season in hopes that bad luck, illness and injury don’t get the best of them.
“I think that we prioritize cross country and indoor serves as a building block for the outdoor season,” Harter said. “Obviously we’re excited about outdoor season. We’ve always been a better outdoor team than indoor, because there’s a balance across the board, having throwers, having jumpers, having sprinters. I think that when you add the 3,000-meter steeplechase, the 10,000 meters, the 400-meter hurdles, all those outdoor events play in our favor.”
Competing in one of the toughest conferences in the nation, Harter is well aware of what lies ahead of them and the competition his Lady’Backs will face.
“It’s hard to get that perfect balance,” Harter said. “But we’re always contending for that SEC title, we’re always a top 20 team. When things go right, we can be in the top 10. Our philosophy is to find quality student-athletes and then develop them.”
Arkansas track and field will open the outdoor season at Texas Relays, April 2-5, in Austin, Texas and at the Stanford Invitational, April 4-5, in Palo Alto, Calif.