The Texas Relays: The Lady Razorbacks had a good weekend in Austin, Texas, for the Texas Relays, adding three qualifiers to their NCAA regional lists and improving the marks on three others. First-time qualifiers included Brandy Blackwood, Michelle Martin and Tiavannia Thompson while the 4×100 and 4×400-meter relays and Stephanie Irwin improved on previous marks.
Splitting Up: For the second time this season, the Lady Razorbacks will split their squad into a pair of contingents. Several distance runners will head to the Pacific coast to compete at the Mt. SAC Relays while the remainder of the team drives to Norman, Okla., to run at the John Jacobs Invitational.
Splitting Philosophy: The University of Arkansas coaches have a philosophy that they would like each athlete to have the best chance to excel at their particular event which is why the Arkansas track team tends to split squads so often during the outdoor season. In this particular case, Mt. SAC is known for its strong distance events, but also for its lack of sprinters which is why Arkansas is only sending a select few to Walnut, Calif.
Mt. SAC History: There is no doubt about it; the University of Arkansas has a history with the Mt. SAC Relays, and a good one at that. Over the years four Lady Razorbacks have won Mt. SAC Relays titles including former Lady’Back Aneita Denton in the 800 meters just last year. Arkansas’ first Mt. SAC title was taken by Jessica Dailey in 1998 when she took the 3,000-meter title. Others to win at Mt. SAC include April Steiner (pole vault, 2003) and Christin Wurth (1,500, 2003).
Real Relays History: Not only have Arkansas’ runners had success at the Mt. SAC Relays, but their coaches have too. In this case, it is head coach Lance Harter who was inducted into the Mt. SAC Relays Hall of Fame in 2003 for his contributions to the Relays over the years.
First Qualifier: She has been oh so close for so long that Arkansas’ coaches were happy to see junior Michelle Martin get over the hump and qualify for the NCAA Mideast Regional Championship. Jumping a career best 5-8 3/4, Martin finished second in the ‘B’ section of the high jump at the Texas Relays and recorded her first regional qualifier of the year. Prior to her jump in Texas, Martin had cleared 5-8 and had been stuck on that height throughout the indoor season.
An Arkansas First: Sophomore Tominque Boatright is not the first Lady Razorback to earn all-America honors in the 400 meters, but she is the first in Arkansas history to make it out of the rounds and into the finals. The last Lady Razorback to come close was former standout Angel Heath who qualified out of the regional format in 2003, but did not move into the finals at the national championship.
A Second Honor: Tominque Boatright earned all-America honors in 2005 when she fought through incredible pain to finish her leg of Arkansas’ distance medley relay. Coming around the first curve, she pulled a hamstring which kept her out for most of the outdoor season. One year later, Boatright has earned her second all-America honor, this time in the 400-meter dash, her first all-America certificate in a non-relay.
Impressive at Texas: It should be noted that of all the sprinters who ran at the Texas Relays, Tominque Boatright certainly stood out. Running on each of Arkansas’ four relay teams, Boatright did everything she could to put Arkansas into races and give it a chance to win.
Another School Record: After helping set the Arkansas distance medley relay mark in 2005, Tominque Boatright had a plan in 2006 and it included Arkansas’ 400-meter record. After a near miss at the Iowa State Qualifier, Boatright left no doubt who the fastest 400-meter runner in Arkansas history was as she shattered the school record by three-tenths of a second. Running 53.17, Boatright crushed former Lady’Back Adwoa Gyasi-Nimako’s time of 53.48 which was set at the 2002 SEC Championships.
One, Two, Four and Five: With her school-record performance in the 400 meters at the NCAA Championships and her near record-breaker in the finals the next day, Tominque Boatright left no doubt who the queen of the 400 is. She now holds four of the top five marks in school history with the previous school record the only mark that breaks her strangle hold on the event.
Boatright Continues to Impress: One of Arkansas’ brightest up and coming stars is sophomore Tominque Boatright. A two-time all-American heading into the outdoor season of her second year, she has the opportunity to become Arkansas’ most decorated sprinter if she continues at her current pace. A 100-200-meter runner when she arrived at Arkansas, Boatright was moved to the linger race because of her stamina and the move so far has paid dividends.
All-Americans: The Lady Razorbacks earned two all-America certificates at the 2006 NCAA Indoor Championships. Junior Jodi Unger picked up the first one when she finished eighth in the pole vault with a clearance of 13-5 1/4 while just moments later, sophomore Tominque Boatright took eighth in the 400-meter dash to pick up the second all-America certificate of her career.
Welcome Back Miss Blackwood: It took her a couple of weeks to get back into the swing of things, but Brandy Blackwood appears to be ready and able to help the Lady Razorbacks this spring. Forced to sit out the indoor season after completing her eligibility in the sport in 2005, Blackwood returned to the hammer circle two weeks ago and had modest throws, but nothing compared to what she accomplished in Texas.
Not Quite Top 5: Brandy Blackwood’s toss of 188-4 at the Texas Relays sailed past the NCAA regional qualifier in the event and nearly cracked into Arkansas’ top five marks. Blackwood currently owns three of the five best marks in school history and her toss was just one foot shy of fifth place.
One Meet, One Qualifier: Jodi Unger took the momentum of her all-America honor indoors right into the outdoor season by posting a regional qualifying mark in her first meet. Jumping a modest 12-11 1/2, Unger won the competition in California and should clear 13 feet in the next couple of weeks.
Her First: Junior Jodi Unger came to Arkansas as a decent high school pole vaulter, but nothing that would shock the collegiate world. She had never cleared 12 feet and aside from a solid pole vaulting physique, was not mentioned with some of Arkansas’ big names at the time. Oh how things change as over the past two years, Unger not only cleared 12 feet, but 13 on way to her first all-America honor.
Arkansas’ Fourth: With her all-America honor in the pole vault, Jodi Unger became the fourth University of Arkansas pole vaulter to earn all-America honors. Former Lady’Backs April Steiner, Jennifer Lincoln and Stacie Manuel are the other three.
SEC Runner-Up: It came down to potentially the final jump of the competition and miss would have given Jodi Unger the SEC title, but a make by Georgia’s Kierney Jackson gave her the conference championship and left Unger to her first runner-up performance.
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 four of her seven competitions indoors and has a career and season best vault of 13-6 1/4. 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.
Don’t Forget: Stephanie Irwin may not have had the big jump in her first meet, but the Mt. Ida, Arkansas native is at the same level of each of her teammates. In fact it was Irwin who posted Arkansas’ highest finish in the pole vault at the Texas Relays when she cleared 12-11 1/2 to place sixth overall. The difference between Irwin and Unger at Texas was that Irwin was clean over 12-11 1/2.
Potential: Each of Arkansas’ pole vaulters has the potential to clear heights that would make them all-Americans, so for the Lady Razorbacks it’s a matter of doing what they set out to accomplish. For the Lady’Backs Jodi Unger, Stephanie Irwin and Danielle O’Reilly have each cleared 13 feet in their careers and by doing so again could almost guarantee themselves a spot at the national championship.
The Weekend Lineup: For the Lady Razorbacks, their split teams should maximize each athlete’s chance for success and looking at the list of competitors for the Lady Razorbacks, it appears that Arkansas’ coaches are attempting to achieve just that. In the distances, Arkansas will concentrate on the 1,500 and steeplechase for qualifiers, while the throws and jumps crew gets another crack at improving their marks. Arkansas’ sprinters used the Texas Relays as a tune up for this weekend where individual events should dominate the competition.
Time Schedule: For the Lady Razorbacks, the weekend will have a layered look to it as each event feeds off the last. The Mt. SAC Relays start the weekend on Thursday night with their distance carnival followed by the Pomona Pitzer Invitational and more Mt. SAC competition on Friday. Saturday is left solely to the John Jacobs contingent in Norman.
USA Cross Country: Freshmen Denise Bargiachi and Kelly Vrshek performed very well at the 2006 USA Junior Cross Country Championships in Van Cortlandt Park in New York and for their efforts were named as alternates for Team USA at the World Junior Championships and the NACAC Games. The World Championships will be held in Fukuoka, Japan while the NACAC meet is in Orlando, Fla.
Bargiachi Named to NACAC Team: Freshman Denise Bargiachi was named to Team USA for the North America, Central America, Caribbean Cross Country Championships. She will compete on March 11, in Orlando, Fla., taking on the best of the western hemisphere. Bargiachi is one of six members of the US team.
Fourth: Denise Bargiachi ran well at the USA Junior Cross Country Championships and when Team USA chose her to run on its NACAC team, it hoped that she could be a factor in a Team USA victory. They were right about one thing, she was a factor, in fact, she could have been a winner as the Memphis, Tenn., native finished fourth overall in the race in Orlando, Fla., and was Team USA’s second finisher on its way to a 19-point finish
A Pair in the 5,000: Against some of the toughest competition that it will face this year, a pair of Lady Razorbacks looked like seasoned veterans despite their freshman status at the Stanford Invitational. Christine Kalmer and Kelly Vrshek each posted NCAA regional marks in the 5,000-meter run even though it was their first time running the distance outdoors in an Arkansas uniform.
Lifetime Bests: Not only were Christine Kalmer and Kelly Vrshek’s 5,000-meter times good enough to qualify for the NCAA Mideast Regional, the marks were also lifetime bests for both runners. Kalmer finished in 16:41.93 and Vrshek in 16:45.31.
Kalmer Taking Charge Once More: During the 2005 cross country season, there was no question who Arkansas’ top runner was, it was Christine Kalmer. The leading Lady’Back in more than half of Arkansas’ races, Kalmer earned an SEC Athlete of the Week honor as well as all-conference and all-regional honors. During the indoor season, Kalmer watched teammate Penny Splichal take the spotlight as she learned the nuances of collegiate track and after a solid performance at the Stanford Invitational, appears to be ready to lead once more.
Vrshek Gaining Confidence: Freshman Kelly Vrshek has had a very good first year for the University of Arkansas and her performance at the USA Junior Cross Country Championships didn’t hurt. Vrshek finished 11th overall and was an alternate for Team USA’s NACAC cross country team
A Better Outdoor Team: He has said it from the beginning of the 2006 indoor season; Arkansas is probably a better outdoor track team than it was indoors. Lance Harter’s statement has been backed up so far, as 11 Lady Razorback individuals and relays qualified for the regional championships.
Arkansas’ Relays: Indoors it was the 4×400 that was given a chance to compete for a national championship. Outdoors, the 4×100 and 4×400-meter relays will be given an opportunity to make the national meet thanks to their NCAA qualifiers at the Collegiate Classic. Both relays won their competitions by wide margins and showed no signs of weakness despite only getting one practice to work on their handoffs in the sprint relay.
Speed and Strength: One of the best things about the crew Associate Head Coach Rolando Greene has put together in his sprinters is their speed to go hand in hand with strength. That much was proven at the Collegiate Classic as three of Arkansas’ four relay runners ran on both the 4×100 and 4×400 regional qualifiers. Tominque Boatright, Sasha Rolle and Jessica Cousins doubled for the Lady’Backs while Lakeisha Martin ran the 4×100 and was replaced by Paige Farrell in the 4×400.
The 400: The Lady Razorbacks knew that they had a very strong 4×400-meter relay. That much was proved indoors when Tominque Boatright, Sasha Rolle, Jessica Cousins and Paige Farrell broke the Arkansas school record in the event. The interesting thing about that team is that only Boatright qualified as an individual for the NCAA Championships. That has changed now as Rolle and Cousins each met the NCAA regional time for the event at the Collegiate Classic marking their first qualifiers in the cardinal and white.
Welcome to Arkansas: Sasha Rolle and Jessica Cousins are each new to Fayetteville this season having transferred in from South Plains College and Clemson Univ., respectively. Both runners ran well during the indoor season, but showed signs of flourishing outdoors as they posted NCAA regional qualifiers in their first races. Arkansas’ coaches are certainly glad to have both runners in Arkansas uniforms this season.