GAINESVILLE, Fla. – By the second lap of the women’s 3,000-meter run there was no question who was going to be the Southeastern Conference Champion as Penny Splichal dominated the 27-person field to the tune of a NCAA provisional qualifier and 10 points to push the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback track team into second place at the conference championship meet in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday.
Starting on the front line, Splichal began the race in a large pack of runners who each tried to take control of the group, but by the time the runners completed the first of 15 200-meter laps, Splichal had already taken the lead. By the end of the second lap, she held a 10-meter advantage on her opponents and the question from all in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center was who would challenge Arkansas’ senior.
“I really felt that Penny’ training was going to allow her to have a race like this,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “We felt like we could let her go and see what she could do. That caps off a very good second day for us and I feel like we still have quite a bit for tomorrow.”
Auburn senior and multi-time conference champion Angela Homan made the most sustained bid to try and catch Splichal, but despite her best efforts, could never close within 15 meters of Arkansas’ distance ace. Splichal crossed the finish in 9:21.56, the 19th fastest mark in the country this season.
Freshman Christine Kalmer allowed her elder teammate to dominate the race while she happily ran with the lead pack through most of the competition. Waiting for the best opportunity, a late charge allowed the South African to finish sixth overall in 9:42.74 and earn an additional three points towards Arkansas’ team score. Overall, Arkansas finished 1-6-10-12-21 in the race with Denise Bargiachi, Kelly Vrshek and Laura Kerr rounding out the Lady Razorback finishers.
Arkansas’ scoring began in the pole vault on Saturday where junior Jodi Unger came within moments of claiming her first and most unexpected SEC title. Clearing each of her attempts with relative ease, Unger found herself among a pack of four competitors to have made 12 feet, 9 ½ inches, which also included Arkansas sophomore Danielle O’Reilly. All four jumpers missed their first two chances at 13-0 ¾, then O’Reilly, Florida’s Natalie Moser and Unger failed to clear on their third. Unger had fewer misses than Georgia’s Kierney Jackson which would give her the conference championship on a Jackson miss, but the reigning SEC outdoor champion cleared the height to end Unger’s upset bid.
Unger would finish second with O’Reilly claiming fourth and Mt. Ida native Stephanie Irwin tying for fifth to give the Lady Razorbacks 16.5 points for the event.
Arkansas ended the second day of competition with 29.5 points to go from last to second in the span of 30 minutes. Georgia leads the team scoring with 36 points with Alabama, Auburn and South Carolina rounding out the top five.
Looking impressive in their outings, Lady Razorbacks Dacia Barr, Paige Farrell and Tiavannia Thompson each qualified for the finals of their respective events. Barr ran her section of the mile with great ease and notched the second-fastest time of the prelims. Setting up in second in her heat early, Barr ran easy throughout the competition and never pushed herself until the final lap, knowing the first two runners from each heat made the final.
Farrell’s 800 meters looked equally as good when she cruised to her season best in the event. Running 2:09.87, Farrell needed to be among the 10 fastest times in the four sections of the race and was sixth on the list when all was said and done.
The 55-meter hurdles was a hot race and began the day for the Lady Razorbacks on the track. Despite the loaded field, Thompson showed no sign of fear as she ran 7.93 to finish seventh overall. Entering the competition with the 11th-fastest time in the conference, Thompson was on the outside looking in to the finals when the day started but placed herself firmly in a position to score in Sunday’s final.
The SEC Championships conclude on Sunday with the final heats of 12 events including big events for Arkansas in the mile and 5,000 meters. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.