Lady'Backs At Least On NCAA Radar Now

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas women's track coach Lance Harter figures the Lady Razorbacks have already come quite a ways this season.

"At the start of the season we weren't even honorable-mention for the polls," Harter said. "We couldn't even get any points for cuteness. But now we're in the Top 15. They must have gotten the gifts we sent them."

Arkansas is no threat to win the women's NCAA Indoor Track championship at the Randal Tyson Track Center this weekend, but could at least have a say in who comes out on top.

Last year, LSU won its third straight women's title and 11th indoor crown since 1987, by one point over runner-up Florida.

Six Southeastern Conference teams finished in the Top 10 or tied for the Top 10, including Arkansas, which matched Miami and South Carolina for 10th.

Tennessee, fourth last year with 43 points, is among the favorites this time.

"We're just happy to be amongst the top teams in the country," said Lady Vols coach J.J. Clark, whose cross country team already won a conference crown in Fayetteville this season. "If we perform to our ability, we should be in position to do well."

Gary Pepin, whose Nebraska team finished third last year, hopes the Cornhuskers can break through for their first national indoor crown since 1984.

"We have a balanced team that won the Big 12," Pepin said. "It takes quality and numbers to win this meet. We have quality, but I don't know if we have the numbers. But we look forward to a great crowd atmosphere here; we have that kind of indoor crowd at Nebraska, too."

Another of the top women's coaches is a familiar face: Stanford coach Edrick Floreal, a former standout jumper at Arkansas.

Floreal still boasts the third best triple jump at Arkansas -- 56-875 in 1989 -- and the eighth best long jump -- 27-7.25 in 1988.

Coach (John) McDonnell took down my Hall of Fame pictures from the wall here," Floreal joked. "I'll have to give him a couple of new shots, with some gray hair."

McDonnell, when he arrived at Thursday's press conference a little later and heard about Floreal's jab, grinned and said, "I sure did. Any other questions?"

Stanford's women tied with Texas for seventh place last year, and the Stanford men have often diced with Arkansas through the years.

"This is my old stomping ground," Floreal said. "Seeing these facilities is kind of special to me. When I used to stomp around here, I got here 45 minutes early for practice and waited for the heater to come on."

Floreal said momentum is always the key to the team competition.

"A team can be in fifth or sixth place but get the momentum and go right to first place," he said. "But it's important not to look at the entire picture all the time. If each kid does her best, I'll be happy with that."

So will Harter, who has a blend of veterans and young athletes.

"Beyonka McDowell, a junior indoors, will do the pentathlon for us," Harter said. "She has great dedication and vision.

"Aneita Denton, a senior, will run the 800 and will also do the 1,200 leg on our distance medley relay. Kasia Williams, another senior, will run the hurdles."

Brandy Blackwood, also a UA senior, will compete in the weight throw. Stacie Manuel, a sophomore who pole-vaulted 13-5 1/4 last week, should fare well in her event.

Paige Farrell, a freshman from Springdale, will run both the open 800 and an 800-meter leg on the distance medley relay (tonight at 9:10).

"A year ago, Paige couldn't have even dreamed of something like this," Harter said. "She has really come on quickly."

Freshman Tominque Boatright runs the 400-meter leg of the DMR for Arkansas, while another freshman, Dacia Barr of Austin, Texas, runs the anchor mile.

The fact that freshmen make up three-fourths of Arkansas' DMR team reminded Harter to point out, "The University of Arkansas has submitted a bid to host this meet for three more years."

This is the sixth straight year for Arkansas to host the meet.

"We're not tired of it," Harter said. "We have a great fan base, and the officials here do a great job."

Clark said, "The NCAA meet is at a world-class level -- there's no doubt about it. And the hope is that American track and field is becoming a prime-time event."

Harter said Olympic track is becoming more youth-oriented, and Pepin called that a double-edged sword. Last year several college-age track athletes accepted lucrative shoe-company deals and turned pro before their college eligibility was up -- including Olympic sprinters Veronica Campbell and LaShaunte'a Moore of Arkansas.

"There are pros and cons to that," Pepin said. "Remember that there are some kids who would never have gone to college without track scholarships. But we'll lose some athletes to the temptations of pro track. It's a little like baseball."

Harter praised Campbell for returning to Arkansas to work on her degree this year.

"She's a role model in everything she does," he said.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories