FAYETTEVILLE – Senior Stephanie Irwin was one of two University of Arkansas pole vaulters and of six Lady Razorback athletes or relays that posted NCAA qualifiers on the second day of the Razorback Invitational on Saturday at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
Irwin cleared a season best 13-6 ¼ in the vault to earn her spot on the national list, her first qualifier of the season. Teammate Katie Stripling also cleared 13-6 ¼ on Saturday, but has a better provisional qualifier from the opening weekend of the season.
“We had a great weekend,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “Seven qualifiers total, six today. We far exceeded my expectations for this weekend and proved that we can be a formidable team down the road. One of the nice things we got as a staff were numerous compliments about how good our team looked from our peers.”
Irwin and Stripling were two of just four competitors to clear the 13-6 ¼ mark joining unattached athletes Sarah Landau and Lady Razorback record holder April Steiner making the vault heavy on the Arkansas red. Based on results from previous seasons, Arkansas’ coaching staff feels that their tandem’s NCAA qualifying marks of 13-6 ¼ and 13-8 ¼ should be good enough to earn the pair spots at the NCAA Championships in mid March.
The championship section of the 800-meter dash also led to a NCAA provisional qualifier on Saturday afternoon as junior Janine Davis etched her name on the list of potential national competitors. Davis looked strong from the outset of her 800-meter competition staying among the top two for the entire four-lap competition. Pulling ahead from her competition with 300 meters to go, Davis held on to the end to just dip under the provisional standard with a time of 2:08.88.
Davis was also a part of one of the biggest surprises on the afternoon when she anchored the Lady Razorback 4×400-meter relay team to a provisional qualifier. Davis was joined by sophomore Courtenay Brown, senior Tominque Boatright and freshman Shelise Williams as the quartet snuck under the NCAA provisional time with a 3:37.52.
Senior Dacia Barr left no room for debate on her talent when she opened her 2008 track season with a provisional qualifier in the mile. Barr was a top five finisher at last spring’s NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 1,500-meter run and opened the indoor season with a 4:47.73 in the longer distance.
“I think that Dacia is further along than I expected at this point,” Harter said.
Despite opening the season on Saturday, Barr surged to the lead pack in her section of the mile and raced against athletes who appeared to be in mid season form already. Barr would comment after the race about how she could feel that it was her opener and how she got tired earlier than she normally would, but still fought through the nagging pain and earned her qualifying mark.
Keeping her fantastic season going was senior Makeatha Cooper in the 60-meter hurdles. During preliminaries of the competition, Cooper posted a career best 8.27 to lead the competition heading into finals. The time improves upon her provisional qualifier from two weeks ago of 8.30 and keeps her among the nation’s elite. Unfortunately for Cooper, her finals race did not get off to the near perfect start as it did in prelims and she failed to improve on her time. Also performing well in the hurdles was senior Tiavannia Thompson who nearly posted a national qualifier in her first race of the season.
The Lady Razorbacks continued to improve in virtually every event on the second day of action. In the 400-meters, Boatright ran a season best 54.74 to snare fifth overall. Three Lady’Backs posted season bests in the mile with freshman Catherine White even exceeding her personal record in the event with a time of 4:52.64. Along with White, Denise Bargiachi and Miranda Walker were among the race’s leaders. Sophomore Ashley Williams in the 3,000 meters and redshirt freshman Kelly Long in the 800 meters rounded out the list of personal bests.
Arkansas splits its forces next weekend with small contingencies competing at the UW Invitational in Seattle, Wash., and the J.D. Martin Invitational in Norman, Okla. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.