Arkansas Blows Away Field At Texas

AUSTIN, Texas -- A little thing like wind wasn't going to deny the Lady'Backs their first Texas Relays title in five years.

Arkansas' steel-tough, All-American freshmen Paige Farrell and Dacia Barr were stronger than the gusty homestretch and their competitors, setting the table for Southeastern Conference mile champion Erica Sigmont and NCAA 800 champion Aneita Denton to blow away the field Thursday in Mike A. Myers Stadium.

The Lady'Backs won the 4x800-meter relay in 8:38.03 for the first time in school history and despite the windy conditions were within four seconds of the Arkansas record of 8:34.13 set last year at Penn.

Arkansas was more than seven seconds better than Stanford (8:45.48) and defending champion Texas (8:52.36) to win just the second relay title in Austin in Lady'Backs history.

Farrell, Barr, Sigmont and Denton join the 2000 distance medley relay team as the only Lady'Back foursomes to win a coveted Texas Relays title.

"That's a great way to start the whole thing," said Lady'Backs coach Lance Harter. "Hopefully we'll get some momentum and it will lead to good things."

Arkansas went into these Relays pinning its hopes of a win in the 4x800 and Farrell and Barr made it possible with powerful moves against the win on the homestretch.

Farrell led off and took the lead on the backstretch before fading to third on the second lap.

Farrell, a Springdale native, closed her leg strong, though, to narrow the gap with Oklahoma and Oklahoma Baptist as she passed the baton to Barr.

"They gave the veterans a chance," Harter said of his freshmen, who were both members of the eighth-place distance medley team at the NCAA indoor meet. "If the weather had been nicer, maybe we could have done it (broke the school record).

"We're really strong right now in our training phase. Two freshmen, I told Paige, 'Last year you were getting ready for the Bulldog Relays or something. Now you're running at Texas. Remember that.'

"Dacia, she ran here last year (as a prep) and she never saw the front of a race, so it was a chance for her to strut her stuff."

Barr stuck with the leaders, running down Oklahoma's Kristi Cook down the homestretch into the wind before handing to Sigmont, a two-time All-American who has been plagued throughout her career by foot injuries.

Sigmont took the lead on the second turn of the first lap and never looked back, striding out powerfully to stretch her lead from 10 to 40 meters before Denton's anchor leg.

All Denton had to do was hold the lead and she actually widened the gap with the quickest split of the event, a 2:05.6 slightly faster than Sigmont's 2:09.2.

"For Erica, that was a big mental breakthrough after getting shut off after SECs because of her foot," Harter said. "(Sprints coach) Lonnie (Greene) has been working with her a couple days a week on speed and she's carrying that confidence into the race. You saw that.

"Aneita, she's the defending champion and she deserves that title."

Arkansas' good day started a few hours earlier when Brandy Blackwood took third in the hammer with a career-best throw.

Blackwood, who took a surprise eighth at the SEC outdoor meet last season in an event loaded with the best in the NCAA, improved her career-best set at that meet by eight inches Thursday.

Blackwood, whose previous best this season was 177-9, tossed the rock 186-1, the fourth-best in Arkansas history.

Blackwood's mark is also the fifth best in the SEC currently.

"She's way ahead of schedule," Harter said. "She's ready to throw real far."

Throws coach Bryan Compton said Blackwood has been slowed by some rib injuries and is still refining her technique.

"Anytime you get one of those at a big meet, you're going to be pleased with that," Compton said. "I think we can throw a lot farther. There's a lot left in the tank.

"We haven't thrown the hammer as much and it's more speed-oriented. As soon as she gets a better feel for where the ball is, she'll pick it up and you'll see a lot of improvement from her."

Harter will field a sprint medley relay team tonight with freshman Tomanique Boatright and senior Kasia Williams on the opening pair of 200-meter legs.

Farrell will run the 400 and Denton again will be a major force on the anchor leg.

The key for Arkansas will again be putting Denton in a position to win the race.

"We've got a weapon at the end," Harter said. "We have to keep her in contention just like today. There will be some great half-milers in that race. We just have to keep her ahead."

Williams will also run in the 100-meter hurdle prelims this morning.

Maureen Scott also will defend her 2004 Texas Relays title in the steeplechase tonight.

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