Week Three: Believe it or not the indoor track season is in its third week as the Lady Razorbacks prepare for the Razorback Invitational, Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25-26. So far, Arkansas has had a decent indoor season, but things should pick up this weekend as teams begin their pushes for NCAA qualifiers in all events.
A Full Lineup: The Lady Razorbacks have used sparse lineups and off events to prepare for this weekend, it’s first full blown indoor track meet. Arkansas athletes are expected to race in many of their primary events in an effort to add to Arkansas’ list of NCAA qualifiers.
Two Meets, Two Qualifiers: While the facts are true, how we got there is misleading. Arkansas posted a pair of NCAA qualifiers in Katie Stripling (pole vault) and Makeatha Cooper (60 hurdles) in the first meet of the season and while both qualified again in week two, neither improved on their opening meet performance.
Stripling Goes for the Automatic: After winning the SEC-Big Ten Challenge pole vault competition last weekend at 13-2 1/4, sophomore Katie Stripling moved the bar up to 13-9 1/4. While only marginally better than her national leading vault of 13-8 1/4, the mark is the NCAA automatic qualifier and would have guaranteed her a spot at the NCAA Championships.
What a Year, in Two Weeks: In just two weeks, Katie Stripling has already established herself as one of the nation’s best collegiate pole vaulters. She won her second collegiate event, first indoors, at the SEC-Big Ten Challenge and for two weeks has held the nation’s best pole vault mark at 13-8 1/4. Stripling’s one loss in two weeks was to aspiring Olympic hopeful and near 15-foot vaulter April Steiner.
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.
The Weekend Schedule: The Razorback Invitational is scheduled for two days beginning at noon on Friday, Jan. 25 and running through 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26. Friday’s schedule calls for the heptathlon and pentathlon, several field events and the 200, 5,000 and distance medley relay.
Welcome to the Tyson Center: The Razorback Invitational should see a plethora of teams converge on the Randal Tyson Track Center. Arkansas’ home opener brought several teams to Fayetteville but the Razorbacks should showcase probably twice the amount as the first meet making the Tyson Center a great venue for watching track and field.
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.
Backing it Up: After flying to an opening meet 8.30 at the Arkansas Invitational, Makeatha Cooper backed up her performance with an 8.36 at the SEC-Big Ten Challenge last weekend. Making the task even more impressive was that the Bloomington, Ind., track was not nearly as fast as Arkansas’ Randal Tyson Track Center which could lead to big things down the road.
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.
The Arkansas Lineup: The Lady Razorbacks have 30 women scheduled to compete this weekend in nearly every competition hosted. Beginning with the multi events on Friday afternoon, Arkansas’ final event is the 4×400-meter relay late on Saturday. In between look for Arkansas to be featured heavily in the mile and pole vault on Saturday and the pentathlon on Friday.
Dropping 400 Meter Times: Arkansas’ 400-meter runners looked spectacular at the SEC-Big Ten Challenge, dropping their times significantly from the first week. Senior Tominque Boatright dipped under the 55 second mark while sophomore Courtenay Brown came close to that. Even senior Paige Farrell, an 800-meter runner by trade, but key cog to the 4×400-meter relay, looked strong with a 600-meter run of 1:32.90.
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.
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.
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.