FAYETTEVILLE – With 118 points, the No. 4 University of Arkansas women’s track and field team finished second Sunday at the 2011 Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville. Along the way, the Razorbacks’ weekend performance featured three event wins, a collegiate record in the pole vault and school records in the 400 meters 4×400-meter relay. For a second consecutive year, Arkansas collected wins from Tina Sutej in the pole vault, Shelise Williams in the 400 meters and the 4×400-meter relay.
The team performance equals the runner-up finish last season and is Arkansas’ fifth overall second-place finish since joining the SEC in 1992. LSU won the team title with 135 points while Tennessee rounded out the top three with 78 points.
"It was really coming down toward the end of the meet when we were putting some races together and gain momentum," head coach Lance Harter said. "Then (LSU) went 1-2 in the 200 (meters) and that was the difference maker. We had some great performances with the mile relay running 3:31 and Shelise (Williams) defending her title. The highlight for us came with the collegiate record in the pole vault."
In her fourth weekend at attempting the NCAA collegiate record, Sutej finally eclipsed the mark and established a new standard of 14-10.75. With the event title in hand, Sutej went over the bar on her second attempt. The previous collegiate record of 14-10.25 was set by Amy Linnen of Arizona during the 2002 season.
In addition to setting the new collegiate mark, she improved upon her own school and SEC Championships meet record (14-7.5) which she originally set last season. With her win, Sutej becomes the first SEC student-athlete with back-to-back indoor pole vault titles. She is the second vaulter in conference history with two wins to her credit, joining former Razorback Stacie Manuel (2003, 2005). Arkansas has won five SEC indoor titles in the pole vault. Katie Stripling won the event in 2008.
"I was so glad to finally get (the record) after being frustrated for a few meets when I got really close but couldn’t quite get over," Sutej said. "But now that I have it, I feel more relaxed. I was getting stressed because it was the national record. Today, I was really focused on winning the meet and just seeing how I was doing when I got to it but I got there and I feel good about the record and the win."
Tara Diebold, in her first SEC competition since the 2009 season, earned a bronze finish with a clearance of 13-7.25. Between Sutej and Diebold, the Razorbacks collected 16 points in the pole vault.
Arkansas capped its SEC Championships weekend with a school-record display in the 4×400-meter relay. Whitney Jones, Williams, Gwendolyn Flowers and Regina George combined to post a time of 3:31.01, smashing the record they set earlier this year of 3:32.48 at the Razorback Invitational. The victory also marks the Razorbacks’ second consecutive SEC relay title, having won the event for the first time in 2010.
Williams also successfully defended her indoor crown in the 400 meters, holding off Joanna Atkins of Auburn down the home stretch. Williams clocked in at 52.20 to retain her top spot in the event, becoming the sixth woman in SEC history to win back-to-back 400 meter indoor titles. She led Arkansas’ near-sweep of the event with George and Jones finishing third and fourth, respectively. In winning the first section of the timed final, George clocked an NCAA automatic qualifier of 52.58.
Earlier in the day, George lined up in the finals of the 200 meters and came away with a fourth-place finish. She finished in a time of 23.53, good for five points.
Arkansas racked up 17 points in the mile with the help of four runners in the event final. Kristen Gillespie paced the Razorbacks’ quartet with a runner-up performance. She crossed in a time of 4:46.14. The rest of the team’s points in the event came from Samantha Learch and Jillian Rosen who finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Paige Johnston finished just outside of scoring position with a ninth-place effort.
In the final individual event of the SEC Championships, Miranda Walker ran to a third-place finish in the 5,000 meters. She finished the weekend with 11 points, coupled with her fourth-place performance Saturday evening in the 3,000 meters.
Learch, Brittany Hyter, Stephanie Brown and Gillespie represented the Razorbacks in the distance-medley relay and picked up a second-place finish. The quartet combined to run 11:37.51, good for eight points toward the team total. In her individual event, Brown finished with a time of 2:08.71 and a seventh-place finish in the 800 meters.
The Razorbacks added six points to their team total with a 6-7-8 finish by Hyter, Breeana Coleman and Ivanique Kemp, respectively. Hyter was Arkansas’ top performer with a time of 8.35 and was followed by Coleman (8.46) and Kemp (8.57). All three were making their first career appearance in an SEC Championships final.
On the heels of her silver performance Saturday in the long jump, Shantel Thompson finished seventh in the triple jump. The senior Razorback had a day’s best mark of 41-5.75.
"The kids fought all the way through the meet," Harter said. "When we forecasted the meet, we thought we could be right around 110 (points) if we had a great meet. We ended up with 118 and LSU just got on a roll and ended up beating us by 17. It’s been a long time since it’s taken 135 points to win this meet and that’s a tribute to (the LSU) team."
The 2011 SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships will be broadcast by ESPNU on March 10 at 8 p.m. (CT). With the conference meet behind them, the Razorbacks will next compete Friday, March 4 at the Arkansas Last Chance at the Randal Tyson Track Center. For more home meet information and continued coverage, log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.