Lady'Backs Bring Balance To Outdoor Slate

AUSTIN, Texas -- Everybody saw Veronica Campbell coming last season.

Nobody saw teammate LaShauntea'a Moore, though. This season, no one saw either of them in an Arkansas uniform.

Before winning two gold medals and a bronze at the Athens Olympics last summer, Campbell won two NCAA indoor titles in 2004 but lost the chance to compete outdoors after the NCAA ruled her out of the championships when she did not compete at the regional meet because of injury.

Moore, one of the last qualifiers for the 200 Campbell was pegged to win, shocked the field by coming from behind to win.

Both Campbell and Moore went pro and both made the Olympic teams of Jamaica and the U.S., respectively, Moore in the 200 and as a member of the 4x100-meter relay.

The duo helped Arkansas capture the Southeastern Conference outdoor title in upset fashion last May at Ole Miss, leaving a gaping hole in star power for the Lady'Backs.

The Lady'Backs nearly pulled off another upset against eventual NCAA champion Tennessee last February in Fayetteville before coming up short, 135.5-120.

For the third straight NCAA meet, Arkansas had an individual champion, this time in Aneita Denton. Denton rewrote the Arkansas record book in the 800 during an indoor season capped by her gutsy finish to hold off Neisha Bernard-Thomas of LSU.

If no one sees Arkansas coming this season, it will be because they're getting hit from all sides.

Arkansas already has 11 qualifiers for the NCAA Mideast Regional and an automatic for the NCAA Championships in Alison Zeiner-Rush, who broke 34 minutes in the 10,000 meters at Stanford.

"Whenever you lose Olympians, it's tough," said Lady'Backs coach Lance Harter. "I think we score from a lot of different angles. We can score in the hurdles, the vault, the multi, we can score in the middle distances. We come in with a balaced attack.

It's just can you on a given day get through the regional and then the nationals."

The Lady'Backs gain outdoor athletes like Kasia Williams in the 100-meter hurdles. Williams posted a career-best 13.18 at Stanford to take second and will run the always-quick event this week at the 78th Texas Relays in Mike A. Myers Stadium.

Indoor weight throw All-American Brandi Blackwood comes on board in the hammer and multi-event athlete Beyonka McDowell has already posted strong performances in the long jump, going 20 feet, 5 inches, and the 100 hurdles with a personal best of 13.64.

McDowell was going to attempt a heptathlon last weekend at Ole Miss but was rained ou. She won't attempt one until the Mt. SAC Relays April 15-16 in Walnut, Calif.

Arkansas expects to be very strong in the middle distances with Denton, senior Eric Sigmont, freshman Paige Ferrell of Springdale and Dacia Barr.

Ferrell has already posted a personal best in the 800 but will also run the 400-meter hurdles as well as the 4x400-meter relay.

"For Paige, the 800 has become a weapon," Harter said.

"We want to keep building on that. She's doing really well. She's exceeded all her expectations and there's more in her."

The four will team up in the 4x800 this week in Austin along with the 4x100, 4x400 and distance medley relay.

The Lady'Backs are well-stocked as has become accustomed in the pole vault.

Arkansas has another strong freshman class of Danielle O'Reilly and Stephanie Irwin to go with sophomore Jody Driggers and junior All-American and two-time SEC champion Stacie Manuel.

Staying healthy will be the biggest obstacle for the oft-injured Manuel, Harter said.

"If she can do that, she can be among the best in the country," he said.

All are in the 'A' section pole vault this week. while Manuel tries to push her best well over 14 feet, the youngsters will get a taste of a big-time competition.

Vault coach Bryan Compton helped Manuel win the SEC indoor as a freshman and had similar success with Fayettevile native Jennifer (Culp) Lincoln.

"Bryan Compton does a great job of the adaptation from being a high schooler to a collegiate competitor," Harter said. "Everybody hits huge PRs. We don't want to change that."

One thing Harter would like to change is Arkansas' finish from the 4x800 last year when the Lady'Backs were a disappointing fifth. Their last Texas Relays win was in 2000.

After the individual-driven indoor season, relay meets are a nice bit of "esprit de corp," Harter said.

"Any time you pass the baton, you're not just running for yourself, you're running for your three teammates," Harter said. "It's kind of a welcome change of pace. Now you have an oppotunity to carry a stick and run with teammates."

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