Another Solid Team Performance: The Lady Razorbacks may not have been at their best at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational, but their team effort did place them among the top five squads for the second straight season. Arkansas picked up big points from Penny Splichal and Stephanie Irwin who each notched individual victories and Splichal posted the team’s lone NCAA qualifier.
The First of Three: Every indoor track season, the Lady Razorbacks gear up for three major events and this weekend is the first of those. The Tyson Invitational has quickly become one of the nation’s premiere indoor track events and 2006 is no exception. Bringing 30 of the nation’s best teams under one roof and combining it with a power-packed professional meet has made the Randal Tyson Track Center one of the most sought after destinations for track athletes throughout the country.
Last Year at the Tyson: The Lady Razorbacks had their best weekend up to that point at the 2005 Tyson Invitational as Brandy Blackwood and former Lady’Back Aneita Denton posted Arkansas records in the weight throw and 800 meters. Denton’s time was the fastest in the nation to that point and Arkansas as a team recorded four very solid NCAA qualifiers at the meet.
Welcome Back: The Tyson Invitational has always brought the best professional athletes in the world to Fayetteville and among those are former Lady Razorbacks who return to the Fayetteville roots to compete at the Randal Tyson Track Center. Among those returning in 2006 include Veronica Campbell, Aneita Denton, Sarah Schwald April Steiner and Christin Wurth-Tomas
Splichal Posts Second Qualifier: Senior Penny Splichal is making the most of her final season of collegiate eligibility and her performance at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational was no exception. Posting her second NCAA Qualifier in as many races, she cruised to a time of 16:28.81 in the 5,000, well under the provisional qualifying standard of 16:45.
The 3,000: Penny Splichal’s first NCAA provisional qualifier came in the 3,000 meters when she ran 9:31.57 at the Razorback Invitational. Just under the NCAA provisional mark of 9:35, Splichal was ranked 10th in the nation last week in the event, but could fall in the standings as more runners compete in the event.
Two-Time NCAA Performer: Penny Splichal is not stranger to the NCAA Championships as she has been their twice before, but her first foray into the indoor meet would be a different experience. Splichal’s two NCAA meets were both outdoors in the 10,000-meter run and she has yet to be among those selected to participate at the indoor meet.
First Since: If it were not for 0.69 seconds, Penny Splichal could have been the first Lady Razorback distance runner since Christin Wurth to qualify for the NCAA Championships in three or more events. Wurth’s senior season of 2003 saw her post qualifiers in everything from the 800 meters to 5,000 indoors, a feat which remains one of the most impressive in NCAA history.
A Two-Day Meet: The meet schedule for the Tyson Invitational calls for a two-day meet beginning at 10:00 a.m. on both days. The collegiate portion of the meet will end around 4:30 p.m. Friday before the professionals take the stage at 8:00 p.m. Saturday’s collegiate competition ends at 5:30 p.m. Events will be broken up into college and championship divisions with the latter being the best competitors in each event and the prior being the rest of the field.
A Scored Affair: The Tyson Invitational may be a scored competition in 2006, but as is the case with most collegiate track events, could be changed at any moment. If it is scored, team scoring will be on a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis like the NCAA Championships and scores will be posted at the conclusion of every event.
The Trackwire Ranking: The Lady Razorbacks were missing from the first Trackwire.com ranking released on Tuesday, Jan. 17. While this may come as a shock to some, it doesn’t to the Arkansas coaches who are used to seeing their name outside the top 25 to open the season only to have their name appear by mid season.
The Pole Vault Summit: Two weeks ago, Jodi Unger and Danielle O’Reilly traveled to Reno, Nev., to participate in the Pole Vault Summit. A place where the who’s who of pole vaulting converge, Unger won her section of the vault by clearing 12-11 1/2, while O’Reilly finished sixth in her section.
Irwin Wins: Sophomore Stephanie Irwin didn’t do it pretty fashion but whatever she did do happened to work as she won the championship section of the pole vault at the New Balance Collegiate Invite. Only clearing 12-7 1/2, Irwin was lucky to make that as she, as well as the rest of the competition, did not bring her A’ game to the floor.
Irwin Qualifies: She did it as a true freshman so it should come as no surprise that Stephanie Irwin would qualify for the NCAA Championships as a sophomore. Irwin vaulted over 13-1 1/2 at the Razorback Invitational to improve upon her career best which she set at the SEC Championships in 2005. One of the nation’s best prep vaulters when she arrived, Irwin is right where she wants to be to make a push for the NCAA meet.
Newcomers Improving: There is no question that Arkansas has a young team in 2006, but despite their youth, each seems to be running at their best early in the season. Freshmen and distance runners Denise Bargiachi and Jennifer Harper posted career best times at the New Balance while junior transfers Sasha Rolle and Tiavannia Thompson also looked very strong in the 400 and 60-meter hurdles, respectively.
Boatright Continues to Impress: One of Arkansas brightest up and coming stars is sophomore Tominque Boatright. An NCAA qualifier in the 400 meters already, Boatright looked very good in New York when she finished sixth in the 400-meter dash and notched a 53.3 second split in the distance medley relay. A 100-200 meter runner when she arrived at Arkansas, Boatright was moved to the longer race because of her stamina and the move so far has paid dividends.
A Qualifier in the 400: The Razorback Invitational was not only good for Arkansas’ pole vaulters and distance runners, but to 400-meter runner Tominque Boatright as well. Still a fledgling at the distance, Boatright ran to an NCAA qualifier in the event at 54.38 and looked solid doing it.
Chasing Arkansas’ Record: While still a second away, Tominque Boatright probably has the best chance of any Lady Razorback in 2006 to break an Arkansas record. Boatright ran 54.38 at the Razorback Invitational to qualify for the NCAA meet and is chasing Adwoa Gyasi-Nimako’s time of 53.48 which she ran in March of 2004 at the NCAA Championships. Coincidentally, Gyasi-Nimako was the last Lady Razorback to compete at the NCAA meet in the event.
Boatright Healthy and Ready: Tominque Boatright had a tremendous indoor season in 2005, then at the NCAA Championships was injured in her leg of the distance medley relay and never fully recovered during the outdoor season. Now with some time off, Boatright is once again healthy and could challenge Arkansas’ 400-meter record which she came close to breaking last season.
Consistency: If there is one thing that Arkansas is getting from junior pole vaulter Jodi Unger in 2006 its consistency. Unger has cleared 12-11 1/2 in each of her three competitions of the 2006 season and has a career and season best vault of 13-1 1/2. Poised to take the bar even higher, Unger’s consistency at these heights should make her progress in the event impressive over the next several months.
New Name, Same Face: If the name Jodi Unger seems a little strange, but the face looks the same, it’s because the former Jodi Driggers was married and took the last name of her husband Brett Unger.
The 13-Foot Mark: Jodi Unger has been jumping at 13 feet for the past year and has cleared in practice numerous times, but not in a meet. That changed at the Razorback Invitational when she flew over 13-1 1/2 on her first attempt.
Unger Qualifies at Opener: Junior Jodi Unger didn’t waste any time to her indoor season when she posted her first NCAA Provisional qualifier for the year at the Arkansas Invitational. Jumping an impressive 12-11 1/2 at the meet, Unger equaled her career best with the effort.
Five Qualifiers: So far this season, the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks have recorded five NCAA provisional qualifiers in the 400, 3,000, 5,000 and pole vault. That number could increase this weekend with the level of competition coming to Fayetteville for the Tyson Invitational.
Dominating Distances: The Lady Razorbacks certainly have one thing going for them in 2006 and that is an abundance of quality distance runners. Those runners also have the unique ability to run multiple events from the mile to 5,000 meters indoors as most have and this weekend should give each a taste of top quality competition. At the New Balance Arkansas will have three runners in the mile, four in the 3,000 and five in the 5,000 meters with only one competitor, Christine Kalmer participating in more than one event.