'Healthy And Ready To Roll'

FAYETTEVILLE -- After sending 15 of its 18 athletes from the NCAA regional to the NCAA Track and Field Championships last year, the Arkansas women's team hopes for similar success from its largest-ever contingent of 22 competitors in this weekend's Mideast Regional at Bloomington, Ind.

"Everyone's healthy and ready to roll," said Arkansas coach Lance Harter. "We've had a great season so far, and now we come to the gatekeeper meet for the NCAAs."

Arkansas has finished second in the Southeastern Conference cross country, indoor and outdoor meets -- better than expected but still a bit disappointing to Harter.

"We've been a standard bearer in the SEC," he said. "We could've won one this season. We lost cross country by two points to Tennessee. South Carolina's sprint corps didn't show up indoors, but they ran like the wind outdoors."

In placing second outdoors, Arkansas scored 124.2 points -- fractionally more than in 2004 when the Lady Razorbacks prevailed.

"In softball, when it's two balls, two strikes and two outs, they call it a 'gooch,'" Harter said. "So I guess we've got a gooch this year."

Anita Denton has shined with a 2:02.93 in the 800 meters outdoors to go with her school-record 2:01.96 indoors time.

"We want to just make sure she qualifies this week," Harter said. "Erica Sigmont and Paige Farrell will also run the 800 for us."

Sigmont is qualified in both the 800 and 1,500, but will limit her efforts to the 800 in NCAA competition. This is her last go-round at Arkansas, but she hopes to make the Australian Commonwealth Team next year.

"Erica has more confidence in the 800," Harter said. "She's very strong. But with her asthma and ankle setbacks in the past, we didn't want to put her through all those qualifying rounds in both races. The 800 doesn't take quite as much aerobic development."

Farrell, a freshman from Springdale who has lowered her time 10 seconds to 2:08 this season, will need her best performance to advance. She'll also run on the 4x400 relay team (3:38.67).

Arkansas assistant Lonnie Greene said, "Erica could be second or third at regionals, and I think Paige is going to run exceptionally well. She's tough as nails."

Greene also said UA hurdler Kasia Williams should do well in the 100-meter hurdles (13.13) and possibly win the regional.

Harter cites Stacie Manuel as a likely qualifier in the pole vault (13-5.5), along with possibly one or two other Lady'Backs from among Danielle O'Reilly (13-1.5), Jodi Driggers (12-11.5) and Stephanie Irwin (12-5.5).

Despite off-season knee surgery, Brandy Blackwood has shattered the UA record in the hammer throw (192-7).

Beyonka McDowell has already qualified for nationals in the heptathlon, as has SEC champion Laura Jakosky in the 10,000 meters.

"Laura could also be a player in the 5,000 if she qualifies," Harter said.

Maureen Scott has run the steeplechase in 10:24.82, moving Greene to say, "I think she can win it at regionals. That's my humble opinion, which may not be worth peanut butter nor jelly."

Greene's thoughts on the regionals are worth at least a peanut-butter sandwich or two.

"Our first year at regionals, it was a culture shock," he said. "But coaches around the country realize regionals are here to stay. If I had my way, we'd win it all."

Four team trophies are handed out each year at regionals, and Arkansas has taken home the fourth-place trophy in its first two tries.

"We've got a good shot to win a trophy again," Harter said. "The teams to beat are Tennessee, Alabama, LSU and Louisiana Tech. The Big Ten isn't strong, except maybe Michigan."

Not many teams have as many qualified athletes as Arkansas' 22.

"Ole Miss has 16 or 17 with its men and women combined," Harter said. "Tennessee has 14 or 15 (women) and LSU maybe 10. Nine of the 12 SEC teams are in our regional.

"South Carolina will dominate the East Regional."

Harter noted that former UA All-American Veronica Campbell ran a 10.96 -- fastest 100-meter this year -- in the Home Depot Meet in Carson, Calif., last Saturday, and that former Lady'Back Christin Wurth has been invited to run the 1,500 in the prestigious Steve Prefontaine Meet in Oregon.

Campbell was denied entrance to the NCAA meet last year because of a technicality at regionals. She then won Olympic gold for Jamaica.

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