'We Are Way Ahead Of Schedule'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Asthma has tested Erica Sigmont's will, but not her determination to become a Southeastern Conference outdoor track champion.

That despite the fact that Sigmont, an Arkansas senior from Melbourne, Australia, suffers from chronic asthma, a breathless condition that can strike at any time.

"I never had it before I came here," Sigmont said. "That's kind of strange because many people have it as children and then it wears off.

"It is the opposite for me."

At last year's Tyson Invitational at the Randal Tyson Track Center, Sigmont was in the midst of the 1,500-meter run when an attack took control.

"I zoned out and I got a little blurry," Sigmont said. "With about 400 meters to go, I felt numb. I didn't know what was going on. It took me a while to recover."

Sigmont said the humidity and the heat experienced in many outdoor competitions actually are good for her asthma as she seeks her first outdoor title this weekend at the SEC Championships at Vanderbilt Track here.

Sigmont leads a formidable Arkansas distance corps.

"The nucleus of our scoring potential is in the distances," said Lady'Backs coach Lance Harter. "We have to be successful from the 800 to the 10,000 ... actually be relatively dominant. If we can chip away in other events that are strength areas - the pole vault, heptathlon, hurdles and other jumps - we will have a shot. If (a team) scores 125 to 130 (points) they will be the champion,"

The Lady Razorbacks scored 124 points to win the title last year after finishing sixth at the SEC indoor meet two months previous.

But Arkansas doesn't have the luxury of coming off the pace this year. The Lady'Backs finished second at the conference indoor meet and have made headlines in the prep races heading into this weekend.

"We are way ahead of schedule in preparation for the SEC championships," Harter said. "We have done everything we sought out to do.

"Now it is just executing the plan of attack. At the same time, we don't have any hiccups."

The distance relay quartet of Sigmont, Aneita Denton, Paige Ferrell and Dacia Barr has been a pleasant surprise, especially considering Barr and Ferrell are freshmen.

In the 4x800 relay, the foursome set a Drake Relays record, and now are branching out into individual races in an attempt to hoard points from sprint-savvy conference opponents.

With Sigmont a favorite in the 1,600 and Denton's speed in the 800 reaching world-class potential, the performances of Ferrell and Barr that could make the difference.

"Paige and Dacia are both extremely talented," Sigmont said. "Aneita and I give them that extra bit of confidence. Sometimes they just need to be told what they are capable of doing. It comes from Lance and Aneita and I."

Competition begins today in earnest as the Lady'Backs jockey to pick up the first points of the meet.

Beyonka McDowell, the defending SEC indoor champion in the pentathlon, will begin competing in the heptathlon today. The event concludes Friday afternoon.

"She's had a good year of training," Harter said. "Her bread and butter events, the hurdles and the long jump, have gone real well.

"Her nemesis is the 800. She is going to have to put herself in position and race as tough as she can."

While Arkansas tries to distances itself from the field with strong performances in the 800 and above, Tennessee and South Carolina will surely be clipping at the Lady'Backs' heels with big points in the sprints.

South Carolina showed what it is capable of at the Penn Relays two weeks ago by winning the sprint relays. The Lady Gamecocks finished a disappointing 10th at the conference indoor meet in February.

"Their sprint nucleus, which didn't show up at the indoor meet -- I don't know where they were -- has risen, to say the least, outdoors.

"They are very formidable," Harter said.

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