FAYETTEVILLE – Sophomore Stacie Manuel and the rest of the University of Arkansas pole vaulters got the Lady Razorbacks off to a strong start during the indoor track opener at the Randal Tyson Track Center on Friday night when she provisionally qualified for the NCAA Championships with a clearance of 12 feet, 11 ½ inches.
After taking more than eight months off from the vault to recover from a pair of surgeries, Manuel returned to practice on Jan. 1 and has only picked up a pole vault pole four times before Friday’s competition. Looking technically impressive throughout the competition despite the absence of practice, Manuel still has plenty to improve on giving her the appearance early of returning to her all-America form of 2003.
“This was well beyond expectations,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “Any time you bring in a team with so many young people you can’t really know how they’ll do. Everyone on this team really elevated to the challenge and for being an opener I think that it is very encouraging.”
Also in the pole vault, sophomore Jodi Driggers and freshman Danielle O’Reilly each cleared 12-7 ½, one bar under the NCAA provisional qualifier making their prospects of earning the qualifier by the end of the season very good. Driggers would end up fourth in the competition with O’Reilly sixth based on misses. Freshman Stephanie Irwin also put together a nice opener with a clearance of 11-7 ¾.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came in the 400-meter run where Springdale native and Lady Razorback freshman Paige Farrell ran a personal best in 54.95 to take first in the event. Edging teammate and relay all-American Aneita Denton, Farrell opened her Arkansas career in grand fashion as she just missed the NCAA provisional standard in the event by two-tenths of a second.
Farrell and Denton each came back at the end of the evening to bookend the Arkansas 4×400-meter relay. Farrell led the team off with a strong 400-meter leg putting Arkansas well in the lead before she handed off to fellow freshman Tominque Boatright. Boatright, a short sprinter by trade was able to hold off a furious charge by the competition keeping Arkansas in first as the stick moved to Lakeisha Martin. Martin looked good at first then struggled slightly over the final 100 meters of her leg handing off to Denton who brought Arkansas from behind to win the race in 3:42.79, yet another near NCAA qualifier.
In the 800-meter run, Arkansas’ runners were certainly the cream of the crop, taking three of the top four positions. Senior all-American Erica Sigmont led the way with a near NCAA provisional mark of 2:09.81. On her heels in throughout the race were teammates Shiloh Whiting and Dacia Barr who finished third and fourth, respectively, at 2:13.66 and 2:15.16.
Another Lady Razorback victory went to senior Kasia Williams in the 60-meter hurdles. Leading a 1-2 Arkansas finish, Williams missed an NCAA qualifier by a scant 0.02 seconds to pick up the victory just under a tenth of a second ahead of teammate Beyonka McDowell who equaled her career best at 8.52. Williams was a NCAA competitor at both the indoor and outdoor championships in the hurdles and appears to be on that pace once more.
Arkansas’ final first-place honor went to junior Penny Splichal who finished well ahead of the field in the 3,000-meter run. The only runner to finish the race under 10 minutes, Splichal was the first of five Lady Razorbacks to complete the 15-lap race. Sophomore Laura Kerr looked very good in her third-place finish at 10:12.68 as redshirt freshmen Tiffany Redlarczyk and Caroline Peyton finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
The list of near NCAA qualifiers stood at seven following Brandy Blackwood’s three centimeter miss in the 20-lb. weight throw. Blackwood finished second overall after tossing the weight 60-7 ¼, 1 ¼ inches away from the provisional standard.
The Lady Razorbacks are back in action again next weekend at the Razorback Invitational in Fayetteville. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.