BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Senior Aneita Denton became the University of Arkansas’ first individual running event champion at the NCAA Mideast Regional on Saturday when she took the 800-meter crown to lead the Lady Razorbacks to a fifth-place finish and spearhead a contingent of seven women’s track athletes headed to the NCAA Championships.
Denton, senior Kasia Williams and junior Maureen Scott each guaranteed themselves a spot at the NCAA Championships with top five finishes at the regional to bring Arkansas’ total contingent of Sacramento bound athletes to at least seven, with three more awaiting the decision of the NCAA Track Championships Committee.
“So far we are right on pace for what we expected,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “Aneita ran a great race in the 800 to pick up the win and to see Kasia fight back after hitting hurdles is really a positive. Maureen keeps racing very well and is coming off an injury which only let her come back to the steeplechase a few weeks ago, so this is a huge confidence boost.”
Running a solid first lap a stride ahead of the field, Denton poured it on in the second half of the race as she increased her lead to 10 meters by the time the pack hit 500 meters. Denton then cruised across the line in 2:04.75, a half-second ahead of the field to secure the win. Teammate Erica Sigmont ran stride-for-stride with her counterpart for 400 meters, then fell off the pace finishing seventh overall and giving her an opportunity to become one of the at-large competitors at the NCAA meet.
Getting off to a tremendous start for the Lady’Backs in the 100-meter hurdles was Williams who was with the leaders through three hurdles before clipping her third barrier. Slowed only slightly by the setback, Williams pressed on but then hit the sixth causing her to fall back behind the field. Unwilling to be denied an opportunity to compete at the national championships, Williams surged back to finish fourth overall and secure her spot in Sacramento.
Wrapping up Arkansas’ list of guaranteed NCAA competitors was Scott in the steeplechase who improved upon her seeding to finish third overall with a season best time of 10:18.03. A tight race from the outset, Scott didn’t secure her position until 2,000 meters when the lead pack began to dissipate and she found herself in a three-person race for third. Scott then picked up the tempo to slowly gain a lead on the second pack and held on for the finish.
In the 5,000-meter run, postponed from Friday night due to weather, senior Laura Jakosky did all she could to punch her ticket to the national championships when she finished eighth overall. Running 16:34.75, Jakosky was among the leaders in the competition though the first 3,500 meters, then fell off the pace dropping all the way to 10th. As the pack continued to thin, Jakosky looked as though she would not finish in the top eight, but on the final lap she stepped up and passed two runners and nearly a third on way to her eighth-place finish. Based on the results of other regions, Jakosky should qualify for the NCAA meet, but will not know for sure until Tuesday when the NCAA releases the final list of qualified athletes.
One of the biggest surprises of the day came in the 1,500-meter run where freshman Dacia Barr finished eighth overall in 4:30.34. Coming on strong over the final 400 meters, Barr took a page from her teammate Jakosky and passed a pair of competitors on way to her eighth-place finish.
“I think that Erica, Laura and Dacia will each get into the NCAA Championships,” Harter said. “Each have very good seed marks for the descending order list, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens on Tuesday.”
Just missing the NCAA cut on Saturday was sophomore Michelle Martin who finished ninth in the high jump. Clearing a career best 5 feet, 9 ¼ inches, Martin made the bar on her third attempt which placed her just outside the NCAA cut. There was a four-person tie for fifth in the event with all competitors clearing the same bar as Martin, but because they made the mark on their second jump they finished ahead of the Irving, Texas, native.
The Lady Razorbacks also picked up a point in the 4×400-meter relay when the squad of Paige Farrell, Denton, Tominque Boatright and Sydney Scarbrough finished eighth with a time of 3:37.30. Arkansas’ place in the race fluctuated from fourth to eighth throughout the race with Denton and Boatright running the fastest splits at an astounding 53.3 and 53.6 seconds, respectively.
The Lady Razorbacks conclude their collegiate season in two weeks at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.