Another Solid Weekend: If one just looked at the recaps of the 2006 outdoor season, they would think that the Lady Razorbacks are on another level. In fact, they are as they continue to heat up with the weather. This past weekend, Arkansas posted four NCAA qualifiers with just 11 competitors and athletes still in a hard training cycle. The biggest news of the weekend came when junior Jessica Cousins shattered the oldest University of Arkansas record in the books, the 400 meters.
21: While there were no new qualifiers on the weekend, the Lady Razorbacks did improve on a couple of times making their chances of advancing to the NCAA Championships that much greater. Overall, the Lady Razorbacks have 21 NCAA Mideast Regional qualifiers in 15 different events making them one of the more diverse teams in the nation.
Finally: It took 23 years and a lot of races to complete, but the oldest record in the Arkansas books has finally been eclipsed. In 1983, Lisa Sparks ran 53.45 in Lincoln, Neb., to set the bar at a height that few either then or now can achieve. Last weekend, Jessica Cousins finally broke the mark that eluded so many other Lady’Backs when she ran 53.28 at the Michael Johnson Invitational.
Cousins Second Arkansas Record: If you have heard the name Jessica Cousins before, it may have been in conjunction with one of the Arkansas relays including the indoor 4×400-meter team that set the Arkansas record at the Iowa State Last Chance meet in March. Cousins ran the second leg of that relay which broke a two-year-old record which had two Olympians on the squad.
The Most Unlikely: If you had been following the Arkansas track season closely, you probably would never have bet on Jessica Cousins to break the 400-meter record. Yes, she was on Arkansas’ 4×400 relay record team and yes she had run the open 400 a couple of times, but Tominque Boatright and Sasha Rolle were the ones that continued to inch closer to the mark. Coupled with the fact that Cousins was returning from a slight injury makes her feat all the more impressive.
Where to Now: Now that the elusive 400-meter record has been broken, where to now. Well, if you ask the Lady Razorback 400-meter runners, the answer is down. The trio of Tominque Boatright, Jessica Cousins and Sasha Rolle want to see how fast they can get around the track and would like to take the Arkansas record into the 51 second range if possible.
The Oldest Record: Since Jessica Cousins snapped the 23-year-old record in the 400 meters, the oldest record in the Arkansas books is now the relatively young 10,000-meter time of Claire Lavers which she set in 1991. That mark is hitting just its 15th year of existence, a long time, but still six years away from where the 400 was.
Where To: The Lady Razorbacks will once again split their squad over the weekend with the majority of the action taking place at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pa., and a handful competing at the Jordan Payton Cardinal Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif. Action at the Penn Relays begins on Thursday night with the distance carnival while the Stanford meet is a one-day affair on April 30.
The Penn Relays: The Penn Relays is one of, if not, the most prestigious events in the country for outdoor track and field. Started over a century ago on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Relays began as a modest local meet for both high schools and universities but has since grown into a fabulous competition that brings the best athletes from around the world to the city of brotherly love.
Arkansas at the Penn Relays: Over the years, the Lady Razorbacks have had quite a bit of success at the Penn Relays. Two wagon wheels highlight Arkansas’ involvement, but in the individual events, Arkansas has taken eight titles. Former Lady’Back Sally Ramsdale was the first to win a Penn Relays title when she took top honors in the 5,000 meters back in 1989. The last Lady Razorback to win was Stacie Manuel who captured the pole vault title in 2004. Arkansas’ first relay victory was in the distance medley relay in the spring of 2000.
Fastest in the World: When the Lady Razorbacks won the Penn Relays’ 4×1,500-meter championship in the 2001, their time of 17:34.63 was the fastest in the world for the 2001 season. That squad of Andreina Byrd, Lilli Kleinmann, Christin Wurth and Tracy Robertson went on to accumulate 20 all-America honors.
Arkansas’ Most Successful Penn Relays Athlete: Easy money would be on Amy Yoder Begley as the most success Arkansas athlete ever at the Penn Relays, but in fact it is Tracy Robertson who accumulated the most titles. Yoder Begley is the only person to have won two individual titles, but Robertson claimed the 3,000-meter championship in 1998, then returned to Penn as a junior and senior to be a part of both Arkansas relay victories giving her three championships to her name.
Picking it Up: It has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for sophomore Paige Farrell but the all-American seems to have found her stride. After a slow start to the indoor campaign, she exploded at the SEC Championships to not just make the final, but finish second in the 800 meters. Outdoors, Farrell again started slow but has put together a pair of races this spring in the 2:07 range and can be counted on as a factor in the upcoming championships season.
Arkansas’ Relay: We’ve already talked about Arkansas’ trio of 400-meter runners, and those in the know probably have pieced together the puzzle, but looking at the Lady Razorback’s chances in any 4×400-meter race just became much brighter. With Jessica Cousins, Tominque Boatright and Sasha Rolle all running to break Cousins’ 400-meter record and sophomore Paige Farrell running her best of the year, the Lady’Back 4×400-meter relay could be something very special at the SEC Championships and beyond.
The Schedules: Lady Razorback athletes will be spotted all over the Penn Relays beginning Thursday night with the annual distance carnival. The kickoff to the college portion of the Relays, the distance carnival brings top-notch athletes from all over the world to compete in an environment that is beneficial to distance running (often chilly at night). The major portion of the relays begin bright and early on Friday and intermingle both high school and college races.
The Crowds: The only place you’ll find a more packed house than the Penn Relays is at the University of Arkansas at NCAA Championships time. The major difference is that Franklin Field seats 45,000, where the Randal Tyson Track Center houses just 5,000. The crowd at the Penn Relays is usually electric on Saturday, the final day, and can be heard from miles as the cheer on anyone who takes the track.
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.
Career Best Outdoors: We predicted it here, Jodi Unger would clear 13 feet and that is just what she did at the John Jacobs Invitational as she soared over 13-5 1/2. A career best outdoors for the junior, Unger’s mark is just 3/4 of an inch behind the fifth-place mark in Arkansas history.
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.
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.
Impressive: Tominque Boatright had not run an open 400 meters since her all-America performance indoors, although she had run on several relays. Her lack of competition was by design by Arkansas’ coaching staff and the tactic appears to have paid off as she posted a NCAA regional qualifier and the 20th fastest time in the nation.
Number Two: Not only was Tominque Boatright’s time in the 400 meters a regional qualifier, but also the second fastest in Arkansas history. Boatright eclipsed the mark of Angel Heath for the number two spot on the list with her impressive time, but is still chasing Lisa Sparks’ time of 53.45 for the school record.
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.
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.
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.
Vrshek Posts Second Qualifier: Freshman Kelly Vrshek has been as consistent as they come for the Lady Razorbacks, consistently good that is. The Rolling Meadows, Ill., native posted her second NCAA qualifier at the Mt. SAC Relays when she ran a provisional time in the 10,000 meters making her eligible for the post season in that event and the 5,000 meters.
Two for Three: This spring Kelly Vrshek has made the most of her opportunities, with two NCAA qualifiers in three races. Opening with a 1,500 at the Collegiate Classic, she ran 4:45.92. She then went to the Cardinal Invitational and ran in the 5,000 meters; a race more suited to her training and clocked a regional mark of 16:45.31. Two weeks later, Vrshek did it again when she ran 34:33.36 in the 10,000 meters at the Mt. SAC Relays.
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
First Qualifier: Any time a team brings in a javelin thrower, it knows that they will get just one event out of the student-athlete, but Arkansas thought they had found a special one when Carly Bloomfield became available. A transfer from Barton County Community College, Bloomfield has career best marks that rival the best in Arkansas history and following a few weeks of getting adapted to the season, Bloomfield made her mark with the first NCAA regional qualifier of her career. Throwing the javelin 145 feet, she soared past the regional qualifier of 142-6.
Fifth Best: Not only was Carly Bloomfield’s javelin at the John Jacobs Invitational a regional qualifier, it was also the fifth-best toss in Arkansas history. Breaking the strangle hold that Jessica Sommerfeld has on the event, Bloomfield is still 13 feet from the school record, but the Kansas native has also improved nine feet between the first meet of the season and mid-April, so there is no telling where she might go.
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.
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.