McDowell Punches Trip To Nationals

NASHVILLE, Tenn., -- The hard work is over. Now all Arkansas' Beyonka McDowell has to do is pack her bags.

The senior from Vallejo, Calif., automatically qualified for nationals 60 miles away in Sacramento, Calif., with a third-place finish in the heptathlon Friday at the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships, scoring 5,518 points -- the sixth best total in the nation this year.

She also qualified for U.S. Nationals in Carson, Calif.

"I get to see my family for nationals. I'm looking forward to do better at nationals," McDowell said.

"My mom has never seen me do the heptathlon."

The automatic qualifying plateau was 5,500 and McDowell surpassed it with six personal records (in the seven-event competition) and two school records in the process. In the team competition, McDowell scored six points for the defending conference champion Lady'Backs, who trail Georgia after two days of competition 32-30. Auburn and Tennessee are third with 12 points.

Besides McDowell, Brandy Blackwood finished fifth in the women's hammer throw and the Lady'Backs scored 20 points in the 10,000 meters.

"Now if we could get some help from the other teams to neutralize South Carolina we would be in good shape," said Arkansas coach Lance Harter. "There are 180 other scholarships out there, surely they will help us.

"The first three events we were ahead of schedule which is outstanding."

On Thursday, McDowell set the school heptathlon record in the shot put with a throw of 45 feet, 7 inches. She came back Friday with a school record in the heptathlon long jump, leaping 20-1 3/4.

McDowell has no time to rest her busy body as she now turns her attention to her two premier events the 100 hurdles and long jump, both contested today, which also happens to be the day McDowell was supposed to walk for college graduation. She long jumps at 1 p.m. and runs in the prelims of the 100 hurdles at 7:30 p.m.

"I'd rather be here with my teammates competing for them and trying to regain our championship," McDowell said.

Blackwood eclipsed her own school record in the hammer throw Friday with a heave of 192 feet, 7 inches to finish fifth in the event, exactly where the Lady'Backs coaching staff thought she'd finish.

Blackwood picked up four points for her effort.

Blackwood was in sixth place after her preliminary throws. Then, on her fourth attempt, the junior popped a big mark, topping her previous school record by more than a foot. The throw bumped her ahead of Rachel Longfors of Florida, who wound up finishing sixth.

"I felt kind of nervous," Blackwood said. "But once I got into it and made the throw to get into the final, it got my confidence up and I was OK."

As expected, Arkansas scored big in the 10,000 with Laura Jakosky finishing second (34:38.73) by tactically beating Tennessee's Felicia Guliford over the last 800 meters. Arkansas' Alison Zeinner-Rush was fourth, Jessie Gordon fifth and Penny Splichal sixth to give the Lady'Backs 20 points in an event Harter expected 15.

Auburn's Angela Homan won the event in 34:21.19.

Harter hopes the momentum from Friday's 10,000 will carry over to the 5,000 and steeplechase, which will run today featuring defending conference champion Maureen Scott of Arkansas.

"If she's feeling confident, she can do some great things," Harter said. "I think she is real excited."

In the 800 preliminaries, Arkansas' reigning indoor national champion, Aneita Denton, held true to her status by running an NCAA-best 2:02.93, despite merely jogging the final 15 meters.

Denton's time was the seventh fastest in the world this year and the fastest time recorded in the United States during the outdoor season.

"To run 2:02 and make it look so easy, I mean, she has a bright future. What she did today was phenomenal," Harter said.

Erica Sigmont posted the second fastest time in the country with a 2:05.46. Sigmont, a senior from Melbourne, Australia, easily surpassed her season-best of 2:09.00.

Lady'Back freshman Paige Ferrell, a native of Springdale, failed to qualify for Sunday's final after running a disappointing 2:09.12, good enough for only 12th place.

"She was running really well. She was in good position after 500 meters and then, in the middle of the backstretch, he made a mental pause and they jumped her."

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