The Gateway: The Lady Razorbacks next challenge puts them against some of the nation’s best runners at the NCAA Mideast Regional, the gateway to the national championships. Competitors must finish in the top eight at the regional in any individual event to even have a chance at qualifying for the meet in Sacramento, while the top five get an automatic bid. In the relays it’s the top three that go while the next two are considered.
Success at the Regional: In the three years of existence for the NCAA Regional Championships, Arkansas has had modest success with three individual champions and three top five finishes. In what is widely considered the toughest of the four regions, the Mideast is packed with quality sprinters from the south and distance runners from the north. In fact, nine of the top 25 teams in the country will face off for opportunities at the national championships.
Last Year at the Meet: Arkansas scored 40 points at the 2005 NCAA Mideast Regional which placed them fifth overall by just 1.33 points. Nearly claiming a third straight NCAA Regional trophy, Arkansas was passed by Ohio State who tallied 18 points in the final event contested, the triple jump, to push the Lady Razorbacks outside the trophy stand. Individually, former Lady’Back Aneita Denton claimed Arkansas’ first regional championship by an individual runner with four others earning automatic bids to the NCAA meet.
2005 NCAA Mideast Regional ChampionshipsUniv. of Indiana • Bloomington, Ind. • May 27-28, 2005
Familiarity with Knoxville: The Lady Razorbacks are a young team, but several members of the squad should be familiar with Tom Black Track and the Univ. of Tennessee. The Volunteers and Lady Volunteers hosted the 2003 SEC Championships where Arkansas finished second to a powerful Florida squad. That meet was marred by a thunderstorm and tornado watch that halted the meet and forced everyone to go underground while it passed over the Knoxville area.
The SEC Championships: Arkansas’ coaching staff knew that it was going to take its hits this season with a young team that features mostly freshmen and sophomores, but still put on a good show in front of the hometown crowd at the SEC Championships. Finishing seventh overall, the Lady’Backs had their surprises as well as disappointments, but the good certainly outweighed the bad in the inaugural meet at the new John McDonnell Field. Sophomore Tiffany Redlarczyk was Arkansas’ lone conference champion when she shocked the conference community by winning the steeplechase, while sophomore Dacia Barr finished second in the 1,500 and junior Jodi Unger took runner-up honors in the pole vault despite setting the conference record in the event.
The Schedule: The regional schedule calls for 11:00 a.m. starts on each of the two days and the Lady Razorbacks will be involved in the early events on both occasions. Friday morning starts with the high jump which then leads to a potential two-hour break for the Lady’Backs before the 1,500-meter run starts at 4:35. Saturday begins with the hammer throw, but will only yield a little more than an hour break before the pole vault starts at 3. Friday’s action should end by 9:40, while Saturday calls for a slightly earlier night at 8:45.
SEC Champion: It took a brilliant race strategy and flawless execution for Tiffany Redlarczyk to outdistance the field at the SEC Championships in the steeplechase, but the Dyer, Ind., native was bound and determined and for her efforts she took home her first SEC Individual title. Running in just her second outdoor conference meet, Redlarczyk claimed third in 2005, but was not considered one of the pre-race favorites.
Fifth in Six Years: The Lady Razorbacks have dominated the steeplechase ever since it was added to the schedule in 2001. Led by Lilli Kleinmann in its first season, Arkansas has taken five of the six SEC titles in the event with Maureen Scott being the only multi-time champ with titles in both 2004 and 2005.
A Tradition Like No Other: The Lady Razorbacks are loaded with tradition and have just as much as any school when it comes to Southeastern Conference and Southwest Conference individual champions. Tiffany Redlarczyk’s SEC steeplechase title was the only individual honor claimed by a Lady Razorback but continued a streak of Arkansas athletes winning conference championships at the outdoor meet that now spans 19 years. The last time a Lady Razorback did not win a conference championship came in 1987 and a Lady’Back has taken a conference title in 22 of the last 24 conference meets.
A New Star on the Horizon: It hasn’t taken sophomore Dacia Barr long to put herself on the map as one of the conference’s top middle distance runner. Now its time to make that same claim at the national level. Barr is attempting to make her first appearance at the NCAA outdoor championships this spring and looks to have a good shot as she holds one of the top five times in the region.
So Close, Yet So Far: For the second straight SEC meet, Dacia Barr has taken second place in her primary event. Outdoors it was the 1,500-meter run where Barr had the lead late, but was passed by Tennessee’s Sarah Bowman in the final 100 meters. She still has two years to earn her first SEC individual championship which could cap an already excellent career.
Barr Breaks 4:20: Lance Harter had 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 placed 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.
A Rousing Success: From all reports received, the SEC Championships at the new John McDonnell Field were a rousing success. Visitors to the facility were impressed with its amenities despite its incomplete state and the times on the Mondo surface were as good as anywhere in the country.
The Timeline: Now that the impossible was completed and the construction crews built a facility in four months, the timeline has been extended for the “completion” of John McDonnell Field. Construction crews have been given a two week break and have until October to finish the facility.
SEC Runner-Up, Again: For the second straight conference championship, junior Jodi Unger took the runner-up spot to Georgia’s Kierney Jackson. The duo had a fabulous battle at the outdoor meet with each claiming a share of the league’s meet record, but Jackson barely edged Unger on misses at the outdoor meet to take the championship.
Meet Record Holder: The SEC has only held the pole vault competition for nine years and in that time three Lady Razorbacks have made claim to the conference record. Jennifer Lincoln was the first, then April Steiner destroyed the mark by nearly a foot two years later. Jodi Unger edged Steiner out of the record books by soaring over 13-11, a personal best, and now claims a tie for the mark with Georgia’s Kierney Jackson.
Number Two: She went from not on to second with her vault at the SEC Championships; Jodi Unger claimed the second best vault in Arkansas outdoor track history. An inch off the top five prior to the SEC meet, Unger solidified herself in Lady Razorback lore with her 13-11 vault at the SEC Championships.
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.
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.
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.
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 four SEC Championships, Irwin has finished sixth, tied for sixth and fifth twice 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 Huge Improvement: Paige Farrell was having a decent indoor season as she went to the SEC Championships, then made a huge breakthrough and nearly won the conference title in the 800 meters. Since that race she has continued to be impressive and at the SEC Outdoor Championships made another breakthrough as she dropped her career best down to the elite level of 2:05, shaving nearly two seconds off her previous best.
Ninth: With her stellar time of 2:05.35, which she ran in the prelims of the SEC Championships, Paige Farrell now ranks ninth on the national descending order list. Just one of four women to improve on the final week of the season, Farrell’s time puts her in contention to earn all-America honors at the NCAA meet and almost assures her a spot at the national championship if she can make it through the regional as one of the top eight finishers.
The 400-Meter Record: It was once the oldest record in the Arkansas books, now it’s the newest and has been broken twice this season. Jessica Cousins eclipsed the 23-year-old mark of Lisa Sparks earlier this spring and Tominque Boatright shattered that mark at the SEC Championships when she ran 53.10. Prior to this outdoor season, Sparks had a career and Arkansas best 53.45 which Cousins lowered to 53.28.
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.
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.
Three Records: With her breaking of the 400-meter record, Tominque Boatright has set or been a part of three University of Arkansas records. Along with the 400, she has been a part of the indoor distance medley relay and 4×400.
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.
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.
Cousins Status Uncertain: In the finals of the SEC Championships 400-meter dash, Jessica Cousins came up lame following the race and had to be assisted off the track. This undoubtedly left her status for the NCAA Regionals and Championships in question. Part of that has now been answered as Cousins will not compete in the open 400 at the regional, but her status on the relay is still in question. Cousins will likely not compete at the regional at all, but the possibility does exist.
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.
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.
Top Scoring Freshman: Freshman Kelly Vrshek had a very good SEC meet, scoring in both the 5,000 and 10,000-meter runs. Vrshek opened the meet with the 10,000 and finished third with a near season best of 34:43.78. Two days later, Vrshek ran 16:48.66 to finish seventh in the 5,000-meter run and earn a total of eight points at the meet.
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 five NCAA qualifiers in six 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. She qualified in both her races at the SEC Championships.
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.
Fourth Best: Junior Carly Bloomfield already held the fifth best javelin toss in Arkansas history, but thanks to an awesome toss at the SEC meet, she moved herself to fourth when her throw was measured at 146-8. Bloomfield finished fourth in the javelin at the SEC meet with the effort.