Solid Opener: The Lady Razorbacks had a solid indoor track opener last weekend at the Arkansas Invitational. Two NCAA provisional qualifiers were snared in the pole vault and 60-meter hurdles and several Lady Razorbacks were right at or exceeded lifetime bests.
A Calendar Quirk: Typically, Arkansas goes from one invitational to another at the Randal Tyson Track Center but because of the calendar this January there is an extra week to compete in. Because of the quirk, the Lady Razorbacks get to travel on a weekend that they would normally be at home.
The SEC-Big Ten Challenge: The University of Indiana purchased its banked 200-meter track from the RCA/Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis and with their newly acquired facility chose to host a meet with just SEC and Big Ten teams. The SEC-Big Ten Challenge was formed and will feature Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt from the SEC and Indiana and Ohio State from the Big Ten.
Championship Tracks: There aren’t many banked 200-meter tracks in the United States, but the Lady Razorbacks certainly know how to pick them. Arkansas will compete in five different venues this winter and three of them have hosted a championship of one sort. The Randal Tyson Track Center has been the host to numerous NCAA and SEC Championships, the track in Bloomington hosted 11 NCAA meets and the Armory in New York City has seen the USA Championships.
What an Opener: The most surprising mark of the weekend came from sophomore pole vaulter Katie Stripling as she cleared 13-8 1/4 at the Arkansas Invitational. Stripling’s vault was a full foot higher than her previous indoor best and is the nation’s leader at this point in the season.
Top Five: With her clearance of 13-8 1/4, Katie Stripling put herself in elite company, top five among Arkansas pole vaulters. The Lady Razorbacks have a long list of all-American pole vaulters and Stripling’s effort at the Arkansas Invitational puts her among that group.
SEC Field Athlete of the Week: For her effort last Friday evening, Katie Stripling was named the SEC Field Athlete of the Week. The honor is the second of Stripling’s career joining her honor from last spring after she won the Penn Relays pole vault competition. Stripling is the eighth Lady Razorback to take an athlete of the week honor indoors and the second pole vaulter (April Steiner two times).
Stripling’s History: A native of Jonesboro, Ark., Katie Stripling came to Arkansas with little experience in the pole vault as she floated between the high jump and vault in high school. Redshirting her freshman season (2006), Stripling had a decent indoor season in 2007 and exploded on the scene outdoors with her first 13-foot jump and the Penn Relays Championship of America.
Quick and Easy: The schedule for the SEC-Big Ten Challenge is quick and to the point. Four and a half hours is budgeted for the event starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday and running through 3:30 p.m. Included in the schedule are all the field events and a good portion of the championship running events minus the long distances.
Who Arkansas Brings: Because the schedule does not call for long distance races, Arkansas’ aces are staying home this weekend. Several middle distance runners are expected to compete but most will open in their primary events at the Razorback Invitational next weekend.
The Rankings: The United States Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association rankings have the Lady Razorbacks #9 in the nation according to their preseason numbers. The Lady Razorbacks have a score of 77.80 which puts it in a solid top 10 role, but the numbers could change quickly when the first set of 2008 rankings are released on Jan. 30.
Old Rankings: This season there is a new twist to the collegiate track rankings. Gone is the Trackwire 25, a ranking system that existed for more than 10 years. In its place is a system devised by the United States Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association.
A Stunning Opener: Senior Makeatha Cooper did not compete indoors in 2007 but wasted no time making a name for herself in 2008. The Grand Prairie, Texas, native clocked one of the fastest times in recent Lady Razorback memory in the 60-meter hurdles and notched a solid NCAA provisional qualifier with her 8.30 last Friday night.
Tops in the Nation: We weren’t sure it would hold up, but Makeatha Cooper’s 8.30 from the Arkansas Invitational is the nation’s leading mark. She edged Penn State’s Aleesha Barber (8.32) and Houston’s Moriam Seun Adigun (8.40) for the nation’s top spot.
Fastest Since: While Makeatha Cooper’s 8.30 didn’t quite make Arkansas’ all-time top five (Kasia Williams 8.23), it is the fastest Lady Razorback time since Williams in 2005. Cooper’s next challenges are to break into Arkansas’ all-time top five and then go after the oldest record in Arkansas’ indoor record book, Kyla Shoemake’s 8.16 set during the 1998 season.
Five All-Americans: The Lady Razorbacks return five all-Americans to the track in 2008. Led by four-time honoree Tominque Boatright, Arkansas also has three-time award winner Paige Farrell, two-time certificate earners Dacia Barr and Stephanie Irwin and one-time honoree Etienne Chaplin.
Sprints and Mile: The Lady Razorbacks are going to be heavy in the sprints and the mile at the SEC-Big Ten Challenge. Arkansas’ distance runners are not attacking anything longer than the metric mile while the sprints showcase athletes in everything from the 60 to the 800. The Lady Razorbacks will also be featured in numerous field events throughout the day.
SEC Cross Country Champions: The Lady Razorbacks won their second consecutive SEC Cross Country Championship in late October with a convincing win at the meet in Lexington, Ky. The title was Arkansas’ 12th SEC cross victory, the most by any school.
18-Time SEC Champions: The Lady Razorbacks are the most successful cross country/track and field team in the Southeastern Conference and their 18 SEC titles are proof. No other school has won as many titles since Arkansas joined the league in the fall of 1991 and only LSU has won more conference championships (19) than Arkansas has and that includes conference meets dating back to the early 80s.
SEC Freshman of the Year: For her efforts throughout the cross country season and for her finish at the SEC Championships, Jillian Rosen was named the Southeastern Conference’s Freshman of the Year in Nov. Rosen finished fifth at the SEC Championships and 56th at the NCAA meet (Arkansas’ best finish).
Speed and Stamina: Coming into the 2008 track season, Jillian Rosen has been a middle distance runner, concentrating on the 800 meters and mile. After a strong showing throughout the cross country season don’t be surprised if Rosen takes on a few 3,000 and 5,000-meter races. Rosen possesses the speed for middle distance, but the stamina for the longer races making her a vital part in Arkansas’ march toward a conference championship.
New Faces: The Lady Razorbacks feature a host of new faces this winter, 16 in fact. While the core group of runners and field event personnel remain the same, Arkansas brought in six transfers and 10 prep stars. The last time the Lady Razorbacks saw that kind of turnover was in the late 90s which eventually led to six SEC track and field titles.
Strong in the Vault: The Lady Razorbacks knew that the pole vault would once again be a strong event in 2008, but not even Arkansas’ coaches knew how strong until mid way through the summer. For the indoor season Arkansas is planning to compete with five women in the event and of those five, three have cleared the 13-foot mark while the other two are knocking on the door.
Irwin Leads the Group: Arkansas’ five pole vaulters for the indoor season are led by two-time all-American Stephanie Irwin. Irwin earned all-America honors in both the indoor and outdoor seasons in 2007 and cleared career bests in the process. She enters her senior season with a career indoor best of 13-8 1/2.
Year Nine: It’s hard to believe, but the Randal Tyson Track Center begins its ninth year as the home of Arkansas Indoor Track and Field in 2008. The building was dedicated in February of 2000 and since it opened its doors to the public, more than 100,000 people have come to watch track and field at the highest levels.