BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Consistently one of the best programs in the country, the Arkansas women’s track and field team has placed among the NCAA top-six over the last five seasons. The Razorbacks will face their final challenge of the 2016 indoor season this weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship in Birmingham, Alabama.
Living up to their competitive reputation, the Razorbacks boast 12 NCAA qualifiers, second only to current No. 2 Oregon (16). Arkansas’s qualifiers accounted for 96 of 110 points scored to win its sixth Southeastern Conference Indoor Championship. Successful in their conference title defense, the Razorbacks will contend with SEC rivals No.1 Florida and No. 3 Georgia as all three pursue the coveted NCAA indoor crown.
Associate head coach Chris Johnson and assistant coach Bryan Compton have developed an impressive group of student-athletes who rank inside the NCAA top-five in their respective events. Talented in multiple events, Arkansas has tremendous depth in the pentathlon accounting for one quarter of the entries alone.
NCAA Qualifiers A-Z
Multi-talented Razorback Taliyah Brooks forged her way into the NCAA history books with a career best 4,457 points in the pentathlon at the Razorback Invitational. The Wichita Falls, Texas native went toe-to-toe with current NCAA record-holder Kendall Williams at the SEC Indoor Championship narrowly missing first by a 44-point margin. A first-year qualifier in 2015, Brooks has markedly increased in strength and power accounting for improvements in the 800 (2:19.06), 60-meter hurdles (8.18) and long jump (6.35m/20-10). Arkansas’s highest finisher in the event was former NCAA record-holder Makeba Alcide who placed third with 4,327 points in 2013. Brooks, who sits second behind Alcide on Arkansas’s all-time best list also gained entry to the national meet in the open 60-meter hurdle and long jump competitions.
Qualifying for her second indoor national championship in three years, pentathlete Leigha Brown plans to continue to build on her progress from the regular season. Scoring a new PR of 4,207 points in the pentathlon to place fourth at SECs, Brown sits only a mere 22 points out of scoring contention. Specializing primarily in the 800 and shot put events, Brown has significantly improved her 60-meter hurdle (8.54) and long jump (5.69m/18-18) performances this season earning new career bests in both.
400-meter powerhouse Taylor Ellis-Watson is one of only two collegians this year who attained a sub-52 time in the event. Ellis-Watson, who holds a personal best of 51.52, won the 400-meter SEC title in late Feb. with a new season best of 51.84. Considered one of the best quarter-milers to compete for Arkansas, Ellis-Watson is second only to current Nigerian Olympian Regina George (51.05, 2013). A runner-up in the event in 2015, Ellis-Watson looks to bring home Arkansas’s first 400-meter national title in the history of the program. The Philadelphia native is a seven-time All-American with two silver-medal performances to her credit.
Originally an LSU Tiger, Alex Gochenour joined the Razorback ranks upon noticing the success of former multi standout Alcide. Currently in her third and final indoor season for Arkansas, Gochenour’s enhanced development under Johnson and Compton is undeniable. From her 2014 and 2015 indoor seasons, the Missouri Valley, Iowa native increased her pentathlon total by 388 points. Her score of 4,430 from last year’s national meet placed her fourth [in the country?]. A veteran in the event, Gochenour will put her best foot forward in the final indoor meet of her collegiate career.
Homegrown a few miles from Fayetteville, Payton Stumbaugh has been one of the best new additions to an already talented Razorback roster. A newcomer to the NCAA championship circuit, Stumbaugh is a double qualifier individually (60mH, pentathlon) in her first season with Arkansas. Following a similar progression as fellow multi Gochenour, the Oklahoma transfer has collected 537 additional points from event improvements in one season as a Razorback. Entering the year with a PR of 3,633 points in the pentathlon, Stumbaugh now has the fifth-best performance in Arkansas history with her new career best of 4,170 points. Specializing in the sprints and hurdles, Stumbaugh will see action in the open 60-meter hurdle semis following her pentathlon competition on Friday, March 11.
Another Arkansan and 2015 newcomer, Lexi Weeks wasted no time in showing the NCAA track and field world just what she is capable of. Lexi Weeks shot to the top of the leaderboard following a collegiate debut that featured a PR and NCAA-leading clearance of 4.50m/14-9. Trusting in her own ability and guidance from renowned pole vault guru Compton, Lexi Weeks vaulted into American, NCAA and Arkansas record books with a 4.60m/15-1 clearance at the Tyson Invitational. Showing no signs of slowing down Lexi Weeks is in prime position to be the first freshman in the history of the event to win a gold medal national level. Along with Sandi Morris, the champion in 2015, a win would also mark Arkansas’s second instance of back-to-back titles in the event (Tina Sutej, 2011/2012).
Never short on gifted vaulters, Arkansas boasts a second NCAA top talent in the form of Cabot, Ark. native Tori Weeks. The national high school indoor record-holder made major strides during her freshman campaign, improving to a new PR of 4.40m/14-5.25 to place first at the regular season finale, the Arkansas Qualifier. Tori Weeks is tied as the second-best performer in the SEC this season and scored six points for the Razorbacks at her first conference championship. She hopes to parlay her strong regular season finish into another postseason podium-meriting performance.
Responsible for the second best DMR performance in NCAA history, Arkansas has an excellent track record of outstanding showings in the event dating back to a fourth-place finish in 1995 (team of: Catherine Allsop, Megan Flowers, Felicia Williams and Trine Pilskog). Coming off two-consecutive national title runs, the Razorbacks will feature a completely fresh team on Friday evening of Nikki Hiltz, Daina Harper, Therese Haiss and Jessica Kamilos. Haiss and Kamilos were members of last year’s NCAA championship relay running the 800 and 1200-meter legs, respectively. Haiss will reprise her role in the 800 while Kamilos will move into the anchor position taking on the mile.
Arkansas will cap the weekend with the 4×400-meter relay scheduled for 6:55 p.m. on Saturday, March 12. The Razorbacks have come exceedingly close to capturing the national indoor 4×400-meter title in three out of the last x indoor seasons finishing as the runner-up in 2011, 2013 and 2015. Arkansas A team of Stumbaugh, Harper, Brianna Swinton and Ellis-Watson have a personal best performance this season of 3:30.63 – the No. 4 all-time best in Razorback history.
The 2016 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship will be held on March 11-12 in Birmingham, Alabama at the Birmingham Crossplex. Ticket and meet information can be found at the NCAA Championship Central.
ESPN3 will stream the meet live on March 11 starting at 5:25 p.m. Central time and March 12 starting at 3:55 p.m. Central time. A re-air of the championship will take place on Sunday, March 13 starting at 6 p.m. Central time on ESPN2 and also Wednesday, March 23 starting at 9 p.m. Central time on ESPNU.
For more information on Arkansas track and field including in-meet updates, follow @RazorbackTF on Twitter.