Continuing to Improve: The Arkansas Lady Razorbacks continued their steady improvements two weeks ago at the Penn Relays and Cardinal Invitational. In Philadelphia, the sprint medley relay shattered the school record by seven seconds and Jodi Unger won the championship section of the pole vault. The Cardinal meet saw Dacia Barr run a career best in the 1,500 meters and post the ninth fastest time in the country.
The SEC Championships: The Lady Razorbacks are ready for the upcoming SEC Championships at the new John McDonnell Field. Entering the meet unranked for the first time in several years, the Lady Razorbacks do not expect that to hinder their chances of making a run at the conference title which they nearly accomplished last season from an underdog roll.
John McDonnell Field: The facility is not quite done and what is left will probably be noticeable, but the main parts are finished and ready for competition. The track itself has been down for three weeks and the painters finished on Friday despite rain all last week.
Records: It should be noted that the first race in every event at the 2006 SEC Championships is a facility record. Despite the name remaining the same, the change in John McDonnell Field’s dimensions make it a new facility and therefore wipe out the old marks.
Last Year at the SEC Championships: The Lady Razorbacks nearly shocked the conference last season when they scored 124.2 points on way to a second-place finish at the SEC meet. Had it not been for the sprint firepower of South Carolina, Arkansas would have won its fourth overall and second consecutive meet.
|2005 SEC Outdoor Track ChampionshipsNashville, Tenn. • May 12-15, 2005|
New Team: Make no mistake, the Lady Razorbacks are young and because of that may not factor into the team championship at the 2006 SEC meet. The Lady Razorbacks lost 10 athletes off of their 2005 squad including three SEC individual champions. In their place, the Lady’Backs brought in 10 student-athletes who are competing in their first SEC outdoor meet.
Key Returnees: The Lady Razorbacks may be young and they may be green, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t compete with the conference’s best. Juniors Jodi Unger and Jessica Cousins, and sophomores Dacia Barr, Tominque Boatright and Paige Farrell should each have good showings for Arkansas this weekend. The SEC Schedule: The Lady Razorbacks have their hands full at the SEC Championships on the track, but the schedule should be kind. A late meet for the most part, events tend to start in the early evening with the exception of several field events that occur during the day. Competition begins at 3:30 on Thursday, May 11 with the first race of the women’s 100-meter hurdles and should conclude around 9:00 p.m. that night. Friday starts at 10 a.m. with the hammer, but running events won’t begin until 7:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday are similar in that regard as field events begin at 1:00 p.m. and noon, respectively, with running events being conducted at 7:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Another Record Falls: It didn’t take long for the Lady Razorbacks to break records following the fall of the 400-meter mark. At the Penn Relays, Arkansas’ sprint medley relay shattered the school record in the event by seven seconds when they ran 3:52.20. Jessica Cousins ran the lead leg handing off to Lakeisha Martin, then Sasha Rolle carried the stick for 400 before Paige Farrell anchored the squad. The old record of 3:59.77 was set in 1999 by the quartet of Precious Madison, Crystal Shadd, Daphne Harris and Annette Quaid.
Make it Three: Quietly it has been an unbelievable year for sophomore Jessica Cousins. Not getting many of the headlines has not bothered the transfer from Clemson Univ., but perhaps motivated her as she has done nothing short of setting three school records in the relays. Teaming with Tominque Boatright, Sasha Rolle and Paige Farrell, the quartet broke the indoor 4×400-meter relay mark and the outdoor sprint medley, but it was Cousins’ 400-meter individual race that puts her in a class by herself.
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.
Penn Relays Champion: With her clutch vault of 13-5 1/4 at the Penn Relays, Jodi Unger became the third Lady Razorback in four years to win the Penn Relays Championship section of the pole vault. The only competitor in the field to clear the height, Unger did it on her second attempt, and then had a pair of solid jumps at the next bar before getting knocked out of the competition. The Penn Relays title for Unger is her first major championship in the event.
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 1/4. A career best outdoors for the junior, Unger’s mark is just one 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.
Coming Up Big: Stephanie Irwin is no stranger to the SEC Championships and her performances make her one of the people that Arkansas has learned to count on for points. In three SEC Championships, Irwin has finished tied for sixth, fifth and fifth and has the potential to be a top three vaulter.
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.
Barr Breaks 4:20: Lance Harter has been saying for several weeks that Dacia Barr was ready to run; she just needed a fast race in the 1,500. She got just that at the Cardinal Invitational and delivered to the tune of 4:19.89, dipping under the 4:20 mark for the first time in her career. The time places her in the top 10 in the nation for the event and moves her to the front of the SEC.
Not Quite Top 5: Even though 4:20 in the 1,500 meters is an amazing accomplishment, it fails to break into Arkansas’ top five for the event. The tandem of Christin Wurth and Londa Bevins hold those marks with the slowest of the five being 4:15.35. Barr would have to shave four second off her career best just to make the top five.
Qualifiers: The Lady Razorbacks are looking good on the NCAA Regional qualifying front with 17 athletes qualified in 15 events, 21 times. Last season Arkansas qualified 22 times, but the Lady Razorbacks still have the SEC Championships to improve upon or add qualifiers. At the top of the Lady Razorback charts are Dacia Barr in the 1,500, Jodi Unger in the pole vault and the 4×400-meter relay, but looking at the numbers six Lady Razorbacks are listed in the top eight of their event in the Mideast Region giving them the potential to travel to the national meet.
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 what was the 20th fastest time in the nation.
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 indoor 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.
Three for Four: This spring Kelly Vrshek has made the most of her opportunities, with three NCAA qualifiers in four races. Opening with a 1,500 at the Collegiate Classic, she ran 4:45.92. She then went to the Stanford 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. At the Penn Relays, Vrshek dropped a second off her 5,000-meter time when she ran 16:44.31.
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.