TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Senior Jodi Unger and junior Dacia Barr each claimed Southeastern Conference titles on Sunday afternoon, the final day of the conference championship meet in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to lead the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback track team to a second-place finish.
Unger and Barr came into the meet with three SEC runner-up finishes each over the past three championships. Unger’s finishes came in the pole vault while Barr’s ranged from the mile and 3,000 meters indoors to the 1,500 meters outdoors. The tandem would take titles in their primary events on Sunday, Unger in the vault and Barr in the 1,500 meters.
“We certainly kept people in the seats tonight,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “LSU is a special team that could easily win the regional and national championship. To be as close as we were, is a testament to the hard work and desire we showed all weekend. I am really proud of these young women; they have nothing to feel down about.”
Arkansas’ pole vaulting crew came in with high expectations and exceeded even their own lofty goals. Joined by junior Stephanie Irwin redshirt freshman Katie Stripling, Unger and the Lady Razorbacks went 1-2-3 in the event to snare 24 points and move the Lady Razorbacks temporarily into first place in the team standings. Fighting a spiraling wind throughout the competition, competitors dropped early and often until the bar got past 12-1 ½. As the bar went to 12-5 ½, just five competitors remained including the three Lady’Backs. All three made the bar with ease, but at 12-8 ¾, the SEC indoor champion Natalie Moser of Florida would get knocked out of the competition.
LSU’s Katelyn Rodrigue would drop out of the competition at 12-11 ¾, leaving just the three Lady Razorbacks remaining. Stripling would take third by clearing the 12-11 while Irwin battled cramps in her calf to clear 13-3 and take second. Unger’s path allowed her to make the bar at 13-6 ¼, but she came up just short of the Arkansas school record of 14-0 ¼, by nicking the bar twice.
As close as the pole vault was, Barr made the 1,500-meter run seem that much easier as she blistered the field. Getting off to a solid start, Barr moved to the front of the pack and ran on the outside shoulder of Mississippi State’s Jennifer McPherson. Pushing the tempo of the race, Barr would come through the 800-meter mark around 2:17, but picked it over the next 400 meters by posting a 66-second lap. The surge by Barr would spread out the field and left no doubt who was in charge. Barr would slowly increase her lead all the way to the finish and nabbed a four-second victory over the field in 4:14.97, a personal best and an improvement on what was already the second-best time in the nation.
Not to be outdone, Arkansas’s 400-meter runners were once again on top of their respective games as they finished 2-5-8 in the event. Junior Jessica Cousins was the SEC runner-up for the second time this season as she crushed the 23-hour old school record of teammate Tominque Boatright by running 52.06, the seventh fastest time in the nation. Boatright grabbed the school record on Saturday when she ran 52.68 during preliminary action, then followed up the performance with another outstanding time of 52.81. Senior Sasha Rolle claimed eighth at 53.37.
With their times over the weekend, Arkansas’s 400-meter runners posted five of the top 10 marks in Lady Razorback history including number one, two, three and five.
Continuing her string of impressive performances, Barr would lead a 3-6-7 finish in the 5,000-meter run to put the Lady Razorbacks within a point of second place heading into the final event. Hanging in the second pack through most of the race, Barr would move to third three-quarters through the competition and sprint the final 300 meters to nearly catch a Georgia runner at the finish. Barr’s time of 16:27.91 was a career best. Denise Bargiachi also recorded a career best in the event with her sixth-place finish and her time of 16:40.20 earned her a spot at the NCAA regional meet, her first qualifier in the 5,000. Christine Kalmer finished seventh.
Senior Carly Bloomfield also set a Lady Razorback record on Sunday afternoon as she decimated the five-year-old javelin mark. On the cusp of breaking the record the entire season, Bloomfield waited until her last throw of the competition to set the record at 162-10. In fourth place heading into the final throw, Bloomfield’s toss moved her into third and coupled with Peter-Gaye Beckford’s seventh-place finish gave the Lady Razorbacks another eight points to the team score.
Finishing off the competition, Arkansas’s 4×400-meter relay put together its most impressive performance of the season as they finished third to the nation’s leaders, South Carolina and LSU in a season best time of 3:31.91. The quartet of Rolle, Boatright, Paige Farell and Cousins held the lead briefly thanks to an unbelievable split by Boatright on the second leg, but could not hold on for the relay victory. Arkansas’s time did however rank as the third best in Lady Razorback history and move the Lady’Backs to third on the national list.
Other scorers for the Lady Razorbacks on Sunday included Tiavannia Thompson in the 100-meter hurdles and the 4×100-meter relay that placed seventh. LSU would win the competition with 139.5 points followed by Arkansas at 110 and Georgia, 106.
The Lady Razorbacks are back in action in two weeks when they compete at the NCAA Mideast Region Championships in Columbia, Mo. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to LADYBACKS.COM.