FAYETTEVILLE – Sophomore Katie Stripling reached new heights and senior Makeatha Cooper hit top speed for the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback track team on Friday night at the Arkansas Invitational, qualifying for NCAA Championships in their respective events.
Stripling soared to a career best and NCAA leading pole vault of 13 feet, 8 ¼ inches for her qualifier. The clearance for Stripling allowed her to finish second overall behind former Lady’Back and Olympic hopeful April Steiner (13-10) and was a full foot better than her previous career best indoors. The vault is also a NCAA provisional qualifier, the national leader in the event and tied for the fifth best among Lady Razorback pole vaulters all time.
“A phenomenal day,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “I said the other day that I didn’t think we were going to get any qualifiers at this meet and to get two was a real surprise. Even more than the qualifiers though, I really liked the way that we fought in every race. We may not have won everything, but each athlete fought to the end and that is something that is going to benefit us in the near future. We had a very heavy week of training in every aspect and to see that is a real positive.”
Opening the competition at just over 12 feet, Stripling easily made that bar and the next three all the way through 13-2 ¼. Her first miss would come at 13-6 ¼ and she would knock down the bar on her first two attempts. Stepping up for her third try with the home crowd behind her, Stripling would sail over the bar for a critical third-attempt clearance. Stripling would do the same thing at her finishing height of 13-8 ¼, creating an uproar from those in attendance before finally exiting the competition at 13-10.
Stripling was one of five Lady Razorbacks to participate in the pole vault. Finishing sixth overall was senior Stephanie Irwin (12-10 ¼), eighth, freshman Tara Diebold (12-6 ¼), ninth, sophomore Kristen Keith (12-0 ½) and 12th, Megan Scott (11-6 ½).
In the 60-meter hurdles, Cooper took a modest preliminaries time of 8.47 and turned it into a solid NCAA provisional mark of 8.30 in the finals. Cooper’s mark is a career best indoors and gives her a great chance to be a part on the NCAA meet in March. Getting off to a solid start in the finals, Cooper pulled away from the field and easily won the race.
“I was very impressed with Makeatha today,” Arkansas associate head coach Rolando Greene said. “We have had a really hard week of practice and to see her run that time makes me think that she could run eight seconds flat or better.”
Event winners on the day included sophomore Janine Davis in the unseeded section of the 800 meters and Caroline Peyton in unseeded section of the mile. Davis cruised to a time of 2:12.61 to lead a 1-2 Lady Razorback sweep as she was tailed by senior Lauren Lewis and Peyton led a 1-3-4 finish by Arkansas runners when she ran 5:06.09.
On a day of standout individual efforts, senior Michelle Rossio got her swan song off to a fabulous start with a personal best in the shot put. Rossio broke the 48-foot mark for the first time in her career on Friday night when she hit a one-foot personal best with 48-3 ¼. The mark was good enough for third place in the overall standings of the event.
In the sprints, Courtenay Brown also showed vast improvement from a year ago when she clocked a one-second PR in the 400 meters. Brown ran 56.08 in the unseeded section of the race early in the afternoon, then came back for the 4×400-meter relay and split 54 seconds on the opening leg of Arkansas’ top relay.
The Lady Razorbacks are on the road next weekend when they travel to Bloomington, Ind., to compete at the SEC-Big Ten Challenge. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.