Manuel, Denton Hope To Lead Lady'Backs

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- While Arkansas sophomore Stacie Manuel awaited tonight's pole vault final in the NCAA Track and Field Championships, Beyonka McDowell battled to 13th place through four events of her second-ever heptathlon on Friday.

With Aneita Denton poised to try to win tonight's 800-meter final, the Lady Razorbacks hoped to score more points than track experts had projected.

But Arkansas, still scoreless, had a setback late Friday night when Kasia Williams finished ninth in the 100-meter hurdle finals, clocking 13.43 -- well off her best time of 13.13. Virginia Powell of Southern Cal won the race in 12.80.

Manuel's chances improved when defending NCAA pole vault champion Chelsea Johnson of UCLA no-heighted during Thursday's qualifying.

"That's one of the worst things that can happen to a vaulter," Manuel said. "Chelsea won with 14-3 last year but she's really struggled this year."

Manuel, meanwhile, cleared every bar while joining 13 other vaulters who made 13-5 1/4 on Thursday.

"It was all clean, but there are always things to fix," she said. "I had a pretty decent day and now it's time to get to work in the finals. Everyone starts fresh."

McDowell, a former Sacramento City College athlete, heard the cheers of her three former junior college coaches, plus her mother, sister, an aunt and an uncle.

She started slowly, hitting the ninth hurdle with her knee while clocking 13.89 for ninth place in the 100-meter hurdles -- compared with her best mark of 13.64.

Then she cleared just 5-1 3/4 in the high jump, after having jumped 5-5 1/4 in the Southeastern Conference meet. Through two events, she was in 21st place.

But McDowell rallied in the shot put, defeating the other 26 competitors with her heave of 44-6 3/4 to jump temporarily to 12th place.

Finally, she ran the 200 meters in 25.49 -- slower than her 25.26 at the SEC meet -- to run her day's total to 3,303 points. She trails the eighth-place scorer, Tracy Partain of Southwest Missouri State, by just 85 points, with the javelin, long jump and 800 meters remaining today.

Jessica Stockard of Georgia leads with 3,554 points.

McDowell, who attended Vallejo (Calif.) High School, 45 minutes from Sacramento, was reasonably pleased with her first-day performance.

"It went OK," she said. "My one disappointment was the high jump; I usually jump at least 5-3. My shot put was not a season's best, but I put one out there and got myself back in it. I strained my quadriceps right before NCAA Regionals, so I'm still running cautiously."

Bryan Compton, Arkansas' field events coach, said, "The javelin and long jump should be good events for Beyonka. Then maybe she can drop her head in the 800 and hang on."

UA assistant coach Lonnie Greene, said it was too bad McDowell hit the ninth hurdle so hard in the opening event, because otherwise her time would have been much better.

"That's just one of those things," Greene said.

McDowell, ranked eighth by virtue of her one previous heptathlon, attended Sacramento City for just one year after beginning her career at Cal State Northridge.

"It was nice to hear the fans here," she said. "I'm going to have a good day (today). I'm looking for a big jump."

Arkansas coach Lance Harter said he was pleased with Penny Splichal's 18th-place time of 34:30.16 in the 10,000 meters late Thursday night.

"That was just a few seconds off her lifetime best," Harter said. "Not bad, for being the last runner to qualify for this meet. Penny still has a cross country and an indoor season left."

Splichal bested teammate Alison Rush, who finished 21st in 34:55.14.

"Ali has had some physical struggles, teaching a full load while working on her master's in statistics and also trying to train," Harter said. "She's got her priorities straight."

Sara Slattery of Colorado won the 10,000 in 33:02.21.

Beth Mallory of Alabama, who won the discus at 194-9, said, "I came to this meet to take home the gold and that's what I did."

Denton aims to do the same. She celebrated her 22nd birthday on Thursday by qualifying fastest in the 800 with her time of 2:04.01. Tonight's final is at 9:40 p.m. CDT.

Texas, with sophomore Marshevet Hooker on the anchor, won the women's 4x100 in 42.87, followed in order by five SEC teams: South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Florida.

Hooker later won the 100 meter dash in 11.16.

Diminutive senior Victoria Mitchell of Butler took the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 9:54.32, then said, "I didn't used to think I had a kick at the end, but over time I've sort of established one."

Through six events, Texas led the team standings with 21 points, followed by Tennessee and UCLA with 16 each, Colorado with14, Southern Cal with 12, Brigham Young and Florida with 11 each, Butler and Alabama with 10 each.

In the 400-meter semifinals, UCLA senior Monique Henderson had the fastest time of 51.28, followed by South Carolina sophomore Stephanie Smith with 51.51.

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