The NCAA Championships: It didn’t take long for the NCAA Championships to come rolling around, closing the indoor track season. After seven weeks of competition, Arkansas is poised to do well at the meet and have eight student-athletes ready to compete in five different events.
The Eight: Scheduled to compete at the NCAA Championships this weekend are Jessica Cousins in the 400 meters, Christine Kalmer and Dacia Barr in the 3,000 meters, Jodi Unger and Stephanie Irwin in the pole vault, Cousins, Tominque Boatright, Paige Farrell and Sasha Rolle in the 4×400-meter relay and Barr, Boatright, Farrell and Kalmer in the distance medley relay.
Expected: Of Arkansas’ 15 marks and times qualified for the 2007 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, the Lady Razorback coaches only expected seven to qualify for the meet. The staff was dead on as the Lady’Backs picked up one in the 400, two in the 3,000, two in the pole vault, and one in each relay.
Potential: At most NCAA Championships, bodies count more than anything, but Arkansas’ 2007 lineup includes mostly quality. Arkansas is near the top of the athlete count with seven marks and times, but more impressive than that is the fact that six of the seven are ranked among the top eight in the nation and could score this weekend.
If All Goes Right: If everything goes as it looks on paper and each of the Lady Razorbacks finish in their current slot, Arkansas would score 20 points at the NCAA Championships. A 20-point weekend could put the Lady’Backs in the top 10 in the nation after spending the entire season ranked in the mid to lower teens.
The Last Time Arkansas Finished: In the top 20, was 2005 when it scored 12.5 points to finish 19th. Prior to that the Lady Razorbacks ran off a string of five consecutive top 10 performances between 2000-2004 which included Arkansas’ highest finish ever, third at the 2000 Championships. That winter, Arkansas tallied 37 points.
Last Year at the NCAA Meet: It wasn’t the best of weekends for the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks in 2006. Bringing six athletes to the competition, three in individual events, only two scored and the Lady’Backs had their worst showing at the indoor national meet since 1997. As a team the Lady Razorbacks placed tied for 51st with just two points. Then junior Jodi Unger and sophomore Tominque Boatright each picked up eighth-place finishes in their events to account for Arkansas’ scoring.
|2006 NCAA Indoor Track & Field ChampionshipsMarch 10-11, 2007 • Fayetteville, Ark.|
The NCAA Schedule: The schedule for the NCAA Championships calls for events all day each day. The mornings are filled with multi-event competition with the bulk of the meet not starting until early evenings. Friday’s meet kicks into gear at 4:30 p.m. with the women’s 800 meters while Saturday’s action revs up at 4:30 p.m. with the men’s shot put.
Arkansas’ Participation: Based on Arkansas’ entries to the NCAA Championships, Friday’s action is quite easy compared to Saturday. Arkansas’ first event on Friday is the women’s 400-meter prelims at 5:40 p.m. The only other Arkansas event on Friday is the distance medley relay final at 9:15. Saturday calls for potentially four events beginning with the women’s pole vault at 5:00 p.m. The 400-meter final is scheduled for 6:55 on Saturday followed by the 3,000 meters and 4×400-meter relay at 7:35 and 8:05 respectively.
Super Season: There isn’t much more that one can say about Jessica Counsin’s 2007 indoor season except, wow. The senior has broken the Arkansas school record in the 400 meters twice in the span of two days at the Southeastern Conference Championships, qualified in the 200 and 400 meters, individually, assisted Arkansas’ 4×4 and DMR teams to qualifiers and helped both relays to top five marks in UA history.
Cousins Goes Automatic: Senior Jessica Cousins was at her best at the SEC Championships as she raced to a pair of Arkansas school records in the 400 meters, then ran the second-leg of Arkansas’ NCAA qualifying 4×400-meter relay. Her second and faster 400-meter time became Arkansas’ second NCAA automatic qualifier as she raced to a star-studded time of 52.60.
The School Record: Entering the weekend, Jessica Cousins did not even show up on Arkansas’ all-time top five times list of 400 meters indoors. That list was dominated by teammate Tominque Boatright who held the school record at 53.17. Cousins decimated the mark in the prelims of the competition by running 52.79, and then upped the ante in the finals by running 52.60. When things were said and done, Cousins dropped the 400-meter mark by 0.57 seconds.
Recovery Time: If there was any question about Jessica Cousins’ ability to recover they only need to look at the weekend. Cousins ran a school record in the 400 on Saturday, and then returned to break the mark on Sunday and two hours later ran an incredible leg on the 4×400-meter relay.
Fifth: Jessica Cousins ranks fifth on the NCAA 400-meter list heading into the NCAA Championships. At 52.60, she is more than a full second behind the nation’s leader Natasha Hastings of South Carolina, but just a half-second out of third.
Year Eight: The University of Arkansas is proud to host the 2007 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. This winter marks the eighth consecutive year that Fayetteville, Ark., has served as the event’s host. It is the second longest tenure of any location in the event’s history (Indianapolis, Ind., 11 years). Arkansas is scheduled to host the meet again in 2008 before getting a one-year hiatus from the event. Fayetteville is scheduled to get the championships back in 2010.
Always the Bridesmaid, Never the . . .: Well, the analogy doesn’t quite work for Jodi Unger who is already married, but the thought is there. Beginning with the 2006 SEC Indoor Championships, Unger has finished as SEC Runner-Up three times and at each meet she has continued to push the bar higher. This year it was 13-8 1/4, a career best and she claimed second place on misses for the third straight championship.
She Does it Again: Senior Jodi Unger had a tremendous opener when she cleared 13-5 1/4, but her week two performance was even better as she vaulted over 13-6 1/4. Once again winning the competition handily, Unger matched her indoor career best with the performance.
14 Feet: That is the mark that Unger is going for this winter. If she can clear 14 feet at any point this season, she could become just the second Lady Razorback to ever make the bar joining the elite company of April Steiner who did it both indoors and outdoors.
Best Ever?: When speaking about the great pole vaulters that have come through the doors of the University of Arkansas you can’t have the discussion without Unger’s name. The Texas native has as many all-America honors (2) as all but one other Lady Razorback (Steiner) and broke the conference outdoor championship record of Steiner’s. Is Unger the best to ever compete Arkansas, probably not yet, but by the end of the 2007 seasons, she could be.
Unger: Jodi Unger had an amazing 2006 season, earning all-America honors in both indoor and outdoor track in the pole vault. She cleared personal bests during both seasons and her vault of 13-11 at the SEC Outdoor Championships set the conference championship record as well as placed second all-time in Arkansas history.
A Star is Born: Stephanie Irwin is one of those athletes that has been solid since the day she set foot on the Arkansas campus. Scoring in all four of the SEC Championships she has participated and qualifying for nationals each season, Irwin’s career has been memorable. Her 2007 season however is making her a star as she owns the fifth best vault in the nation.
Improving Every Week: Opening the year with a very good vault of 13 feet, 1 1/2 inches, Stephanie Irwin was a NCAA provisional qualifier, but in subsequent weeks she has cleared 13-0 1/4, 13-3 1/2 and 13-8 1/2. As the competition increase in stature so does the Mt. Ida, Ark., native.
New Balance Champion, Again: For the second straight year, Stephanie Irwin has battled and beaten her teammate Jodi Unger at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational. The victory is her second in as many years and makes her the first two-time pole vault champion in the competition’s history. She also cleared a season best with the win.
Rankings: Following its SEC Championships finish, the Lady Razorbacks went soaring in the rankings. Trackwire improved the Lady Razorbacks from 23rd to 14th and the USTCCCA pushed Arkansas from 17th to 13th. The rankings are the highest that the Lady Razorbacks have been this season. The final indoor rankings have Arkansas at their highest, 13th in the Trackwire and 12th in the USATCCCA.
Qualifiers: In sharp contrast to last season the list of NCAA Championships qualifiers in 2007 was quite impressive. Arkansas athletes and relays qualified 15 times in 11 different events and notched a pair of auto marks, a task they failed to accomplish in 2006. What strikes most people about Arkansas’ qualifiers is that there is no one discipline (sprints, jumps, hurdles, distances) that stands out. Arkansas has two sprint qualifiers, two middle distance marks, one in the distances, one in the hurdles, two relays, two field events and the multi making the 2007 squad very balanced.
School Record: On Saturday afternoon, Feb. 3, sophomore Christine Kalmer made Arkansas history when she broke the Lady Razorback school record for 3,000 meters at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational. Running 9:10.62, she smashed the seven-year-old mark of five-time all-American Lilli Kleinmann (9:11.81) by more than a second.
At the SEC: Christine Kalmer had a very good SEC Championships. While she failed to get the 3,000-meter title that all were hoping for, she did finish third in the event and also picked up a third-place finish in the 5,000-meter run.
First Indoor Qualifier: Christine Kalmer had never qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships before the Razorback Invite. Thanks to her effort at the Armory, though, she has guaranteed herself a spot at the NCAA Championships with her first auto qualifier.
First Since: Christine Kalmer’s automatic qualifier at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational is the first by a Lady Razorback in nearly two years. The last to post an auto mark was Aneita Denton in the winter of 2005 when she ran 2:03 in the 800 meters.
Kalmer’s Career: In just her second year, Christine Kalmer has already had a very successful career. As a freshman she was the leader of Arkansas’ cross country team earning first-team all-conference and all-region honors on way to being named the SEC’s Cross Country Freshman of the Year. She continued her rise during the outdoor season when she qualified for the NCAA Championships at the Mideast Regional.
Dandy Dozen: In the latest Dandy Dozen, Feb. 28, Arkansas has five teams and individuals ranked in scoring position for the NCAA Championships. Highest on the list is Jessica Cousins in the 400 meters at fourth. Christine Kalmer and the 4×400-meter relay stand at fifth and Arkansas’ pole vaulters are sixth and eighth.
Returning All-Americans: The Lady Razorbacks have seven athletes this winter who have earned all-America status during their careers. Tominque Boatright is the most decorated with three honors followed closely by Paige Farrell and Jodi Unger with two each. Dacia Barr, Jessica Cousins, Sasha Rolle and Brooke Upshaw each have one certificate to their credit.
Experience: Of the eight student-athletes that Arkansas has competing at the NCAA meet this weekend, it should be noted that each has already participated at either the NCAA Indoor or Outdoor Championships at least once in their careers. Four of the eight own indoor all-America honors making this one of the deepest Lady Razorback squads in recent memory.
Barr-rific: Junior Dacia Barr was terrific at the SEC Championships, running the mile and 3,000 meters and scoring a team high 13 points. Her first competition was the mile where she easily qualified for the final, and then she ran the 3,000-meter final just hours later and took second in the event. She returned to the track the next day to race in the mile final where she finished fourth.
NCAA Qualifiers: We mentioned that it took NCAA qualifying marks to score in most of the events at the SEC Championships and Dacia Barr was no exception to that. She ran a provisional mark in the finals (4:46.98) after racing to a provisional and career best in the 3,000 final (9:22.01). Of course, all of those marks were after she ran the mile prelims.
All This Despite: We should also mention that Dacia Barr is producing all of these incredible marks with a broken pinky toe on her left foot. She broke the toe in a freak accident at her apartment several weeks ago and is well on the road to recovery.
All-American: Few people remember that Dacia Barr is already an all-American having taken her one honor during the 2005 indoor season. That year she anchored the Lady Razorback distance medley relay.
The DMR: Arkansas put together its ‘A’ team distance medley relay for the Alex Wilson Invitational with one goal, qualify for nationals. The quartet of Dacia Barr, Jessica Cousins, Paige Farrell and Christine Kalmer did just that and more. They posted the nation’s eighth fastest time, won the event and posted Arkansas’ fourth best relay ever. The tandem ran 11:13.17 and head coach Lance Harter believes that there is more in the tank.
Career Scoring: Arkansas’ list of scorers at the NCAA Championships is not nearly as long as it is for the SEC meet, but it is just as impressive. Four current Lady Razorbacks are on the charts including Tominque Boatright, Jodi Unger, Dacia Barr and Paige Farrell.
The 4×4: One of Arkansas’ strengths in 2007 is its 4×400-meter relay who returns to the track after a tremendous spring. With each of its four legs back and healthy, the Lady Razorbacks hope to improve upon their amazing NCAA Outdoor finish where they ran 3:28. Arkansas’ relay was started by Sasha Rolle and continued by Jessica Cousins and Paige Farrell before Tominque Boatright anchored it home.
SEC Champions: The Lady Razorbacks entered the 2007 indoor season with an honor it has not had in three years, SEC Champions. Arkansas’ cross country team dominated the conference championship held at LSU in October to win its 11th SEC Cross Country title.
17 SEC Championships: Arkansas’ 11 SEC Cross Country titles are the base of the Lady Razorback’s 17 conference championships in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. The Lady Razorbacks have also won three indoor and three outdoor titles.
The SEC Championships: The end result of a SEC title may not have been in the cards for the Lady Razorbacks in 2007, Arkansas did put together a tremendous effort on way to a fourth-place finish. As is the case in so many years past, the SEC continues to improve and is head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the country. While some conferences allow people to sneak in and pick up points, most of the events at the SEC meet required at least a NCAA provisional qualifier just to score.