Lady Razorbacks Hope to Surprise Experts At NCAAs

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Arkansas is projected by Trackwire to tie for 23rd with 11 points in the NCAA Women's Outdoor Track and Field Championships beginning today, but coach Lance Harter believes the Lady Razorbacks can do better than that with their 11 qualified athletes.

"This is the largest contingent we've ever taken to outdoor nationals," Harter said. "I don't know what the dentist who does Trackwire is thinking, but I think we've got some good scoring potential."

For example, Aneita Denton of Arkansas is the reigning NCAA Indoor 800-meter champion, and has the fastest collegiate outdoor time of 2:02.93 this spring.

Lady'Backs junior Maureen Scott, 12th in the NCAA steeplechase last year at Austin, Texas, has the 10th fastest mark this year and hopes to finish in the top eight in Friday night's final.

"Maureen and (UA pole vaulter) Stacie Manuel are All-Americans, and we think Kasia Williams will be strong in the 100-meter hurdles. If they all get their heads on straight, we can accumulate some good points."

Arkansas is coming off its third straight top-five finish at the NCAA Mideast Regional. The Lady'Backs took fifth at Bloomington, Ind., just 1.3 points behind fourth-place Ohio State and 2.5 points behind third-place Michigan.

Trackwire tabs Texas as the NCAA favorite, but Harter said, "I feel South Carolina is the team to beat. They come at you in so many directions."

Even with its top heptathlete not scoring in the Southeastern Conference Meet at Nashville, Tenn., this year, the Gamecocks rallied after an emotional team meeting to outscore runner-up Arkansas 145.2 to 124.2.

"The (Trackwire) dentist thinks Texas is indestructible, but South Carolina is strong and UCLA is good, too," Harter said. "And Stanford will be tough, with a good distance crew and a great freshman jumper (Erica McLain of Plano, Texas) who could score 15 or 16 points by herself."

McLain, pictured in the Sports Illustrated Faces in the Crowd section last week, set an American junior record of 45-2 1/2 in the triple jump and also won the long jump at 21-2 1/2 at the Pac-10 meet.

"I think a team total of just 30 or 35 points could earn a trophy this week," Harter said. "There's so much parity on the women's side now because of the number of scholarships."

Harter hopes parity doesn't affect Denton, whose indoor time of 2:01.96 this season was just .01 off the national record in her native Jamaica.

Arkansas also has hopes for Beyonka McDowell, who scored 5,518 points in the first heptathlon she ever completed during the SEC Championships, and for Brandy Blackwood, who has extended her UA record in the hammer throw to 192-9.

McDowell is projected to finish eighth by Trackwire, while Manuel, Scott and 10,000-meter runner Alison Rush are all projected to finish 10th.

"I definitely want to score and make All-America again," Scott said Monday. "I think our team is ready."

Harter pronounced the Lady'Backs "fit and ready to go. Most of our athletes have been to the Big Dance before."

That includes fourth-year runner Penny Splichal, who only learned last Thursday that she had qualified in the 10,000 meters.

"That was a nice surprise," Splichal said. "Lance found out that I got the last qualifying spot. It's a chance for me to go in with no pressure, run aggressively and try to beat a lot of people."

In the process, Splichal might also help carry Rush along in the race that doesn't begin until 10 p.m. PDT Thursday (midnight CDT) -- after most newspaper deadline times.

Splichal is a senior outdoors, but has one season of eligibility left in both cross country and indoor track.

Erica Sigmont, also an Arkansas senior, qualified for regionals in both the 800 and 1,500 meters but ran only the 800 at Bloomington in order to stay strong for the national meet. She's not ranked in the top 10, but has the potential to score.

Long shots to score for Arkansas are Laura Jakosky in the 5,000 meters and Dacia Barr in the 1,500.

The Lady'Backs, second in all three SEC competitions this season, finished 16th in the NCAA cross country meet and 19th in the NCAA Indoor meet.

They would need some good surprises to match their 10th-place tie in last year's NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories