PHILADELPHIA – Junior Jodi Unger did not let an illness keep her from her ultimate goal on Thursday afternoon as she won the Penn Relays championship in the pole vault with a season best clearance of 13-5 ½ for the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback track team at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, Pa.
With the victory, Unger becomes the third Lady Razorback in the past four years to win the title following in the footsteps of former Lady’Backs April Steiner (2003) and Stacie Manuel (2004).
“It was nice to see Jodi really get after it,” Arkansas assistant coach Bryan Compton said. “She very easily could have packed it in. She started getting sick on Tuesday and it really hit her when we were traveling yesterday, but our training staff was able to get her out on the track and she really came through.”
Beginning her competition at 11-11 ½, Unger easily made that bar and 12-5 ½ on her first attempt. When the bar reached 12-9 ½, Unger missed her first attempt, then came back to soar over the height on her second. In third place overall going to 13-1 ¼, Unger made short work of the bar with a first attempt clearance which brought the vault height to 13-5 ¼. One of just five vaulters to make it to the final height, Unger was the second to make an attempt at the bar but failed to clear. Looking even more determined on her second, she barreled down the runway and looked nearly flawless as she sailed over the height to match her season and career best.
During the distance carnival Thursday night, sophomore Tiffany Redlarczyk used a smart strategy and a great kick down the homestretch to drop 10 seconds off her season best in the steeplechase and four off her career best. Using the water jump to her advantage, Redlarczyk stayed with the leaders for most of the race, falling back slightly with two laps to go, but came storming back over the final 200 meters.
“Overall we had a pretty good day,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “Jodi was magnificent in the pole vault and we were able to improve on a few NCAA regional qualifiers. I’m happy with what happened today and think that we can get even better marks tomorrow.”
Beginning Thursday’s action for the Lady Razorbacks was junior Michelle Martin at 10:00 a.m. in the women’s high jump. Starting the competition at 5-5, Martin easily made that bar and the second, bringing the competition to 5-7 ¼. One of four people left out of the 36-competitor field, Martin would clip the bar on her first try before clearing easily on her second to fall to third overall. At 5-8 ½, she would also clear easily on her first chance to move into second behind the eventual champion Brittany Robinson of Morgan State. Taking three very good jumps at 5-9 ¾, Martin would come up just short to take second place.
The 5,000-meter run witnessed freshman Kelly Vrshek drop a second off her NCAA regional qualifier as she raced around the Franklin Field track in 16:44.31. Exactly one second faster than her time at Stanford Invitational in late April, Vrshek got off to a strong start in an exceptionally large field to set up the rest of the race. Waning slightly in the middle, Vrshek’s strength carried her back into the competition and to a 16th-place finish overall. Fellow freshman Denise Bargiachi finished 25th overall in 17:17.71.
Arkansas’ 4×400-meter relay team also had an admirable performance despite missing one of its best runners. Clocking their second-fastest time of the season, the quartet of Sasha Rolle, Jessica Cousins, Paige Farrell and Lakeisha Martin ran 3:38.04 to finish second in their heat behind LSU.
Other Lady’Backs to compete at the Penn Relays on Thursday included Brandy Blackwood who nearly matched her season best in the hammer throw with a toss of 185-9, Michelle Rossio in the shot put and discus where she matched her season best in the discus at 147-6, Carly Bloomfield and Kelsey Mollenkamp in the javelin, Stephanie Irwin and Danielle O’Reilly in the pole vault and Beth Fahey and Jennifer Harper in the 10,000 meters.
The Lady Razorbacks continue competition at the Penn Relays on Friday with the 4×1,500-meter relay and 100-meter hurdles. For more information about Lady Razorback track or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.