Blackwood Breaks Through Again

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Another week, another school record for Brandi Blackwood.

The Arkansas junior took third at the NCAA Mideast Regional and lengthened her growing school record in the hammer throw.

Blackwood, seventh and two spots out of a berth last year at regionals, tossed 192 feet, 9 inches at Billy Hayes Track to improve her school record by two inches and earn her first trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 8-11 in Sacramento, Calif.

Friday was the third time Blackwood has broken the school record since April 23 following throws of 190-10 at the McDonnell Invitational in Fayetteville and a 192-7 heave two weeks ago at the Southeastern Conference Championships.

"Prayer," Blackwood gave as her reason for her upward swing in the last month. "I hope it's prayer and having fun. That's what I'm doing. I'm just trying to see what I can do."

Blackwood was one of two to earn trips to the NCAAs, joining Stacie Manuel, who finished second in the pole vault.

"It feels great." said Blackwood, who won a junior college title at Barton (Kan.) County. "Last year hurt like hell. I've never not made it to nationals in college. This time I knew I could and I did."

Arkansas advanced NCAA indoor 800 champion Aneita Denton and Erica Sigmont to today's finals of the 800.

SEC champion and senior Kasia Williams posted the fastest qualifier in the 100-meter hurdles and will try to make her second straight NCAAs from the middle of the track today.

"It never seems to fail," said Lady'Backs coach Lance Harter. "Whenever (Blackwood) gets in a big competition, she throws a lifetime best. She's beating a lot of nationally ranked people ahead. We're gradually working up the national scale. Another PR or two will put her in position to score."

Manuel was cruising along in the pole vault until hitting a bump at 13 feet, 7.75 inches.

Manuel, with a lifetime best of 14-0, has cleared that bar many times before she failed to Friday. Her perfect day up until the last height assured her second place and an automatic berth in the NCAA Championships.

Vaulting mates Jodi Driggers (12-6), Stephanie Irwin (12-0) and Danielle O'Reilly (no height) all finished out of the money. Crosswinds throughout the competition played havoc with the field's run-ups, especially the Lady'Backs' freshmen and sophomore vaulters.

"Greedily, we always hope one will have a breakthrough," Harter said. "Stacie can battle through anything. I think it kind of got to the youngsters today."

Blackwood came into the Mideast Regional ranked 28th in the nation and she didn't improve that by much Friday.

She was going for the gusto in the finals but fouled on her last two attempts.

"I'm going to work on a whole lot of stuff and hopefully it comes through at nationals," Blackwood said. "I was just trying to rip it out there and I just fell over a little bit. I tried to sneak it back before the official saw it, but she did."

The second heat of the 800 was an Arkansas exhibition as Sigmont and Denton, the school indoor and outdoor record-holder at the distance, separated themselves from the field early and kicked stride for stride down the homestretch with Denton taking the tape by four hundredths of a second.

Springdale's Paige Farrell saw her All-American freshman had a full season of collegiate work came to bear on the bell lap of the 800 prelims.

Farrell finished fifth in her heat in 2:12.71, well off her season-best time, but she still has plenty to look back on after earning All-American honors indoors on the distance medley relay and helping the Lady'Backs win two relay crowns at Texas followed by the world's fastest 4x800 at the Drake Relays.

She has the 4x400-meter finals today.

"She ran perfectly to 600 (meters)," Harter said. "She's tired. I told her that (the 400) is her forte and just to give it a good go. She's had a phenomenal season."

Arkansas scratched Beyonka McDowell from the long jump and the 100-meter hurdles. McDowell has the seventh-best heptathlon total in the nation and will focus on that grueling two-day event at the NCAA Championships.

Williams took advantage of a slow heat to cruise into the hurdle finals. Unchallenged after the fourth hurdle, Williams ran a controlled 13.49 against a headwind and will try to improve on her fifth-place finish at the Mideast Regional last year.

Other Lady'Backs today will be freshman Dacia Barr in the 1,500 finals and steeplechasers Maureen Scott, Laura Kerr and Shiloh Whiting.

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