Tuesday, May 11, 2010

SPORTS>>Cabot’s Voskamp no-name no more

Leader sportswriter

Who the heck is Ariel Voskamp?

It’s a question that is sure to be asked much less frequently at this year’s heptathlon, but it was a pretty common inquiry at the 2009 event.

Voskamp’s meteoric rise up the leader board last year has made her one of the favorites to knock off defending champ Kristen Celsor of Searcy when the 2010 heptathlon begins at Cabot High School today at 11:30 a.m.

The 2009 heptathlon centered on the battle between Celsor and Nashville’s Jasmine Ellis, who narrowly beat out Celsor the previous year. And for Cabot fans, it was a fond farewell for longtime track standout Marissa Delapez, who was competing in her final event as a Lady Panther.

That all changed when Voskamp, then a virtually unknown sophomore, began to emerge as a potential top 20 finisher by finishing the first day in 11th place. She finished 12th overall to change her status from field filler to outright contender.

“Ariel has improved so much in most of the events that she will be doing in the heptathlon from last year to now,” Cabot track coach Leon White said. “Her hurdle time has dropped tremendously. And her long jump is better; her speed is better.

“As far as her place, we feel like for sure she will be in the top five, and possibly with a chance to win.”

During her junior high days Voskamp made a name for herself locally as a pole vaulter, a rare feat among female track athletes. Unfortunately for Voskamp, the pole vault is not one of the seven events in the heptathlon, but her efforts in the 300-meter high hurdles have made that event a second weapon in her arsenal.

“I love being the underdog,” Voskamp said of her surprise performance last year. “Working your way to the top is what it’s about. You can’t always be at the top, you have to work yourself up there.”

Voskamp is the 17-year-old daughter of Jeff and Susan Voskamp and the youngest of three siblings. When not at the track she attends Cabot United Methodist Church and prefers swimming or hanging out with friends.

Voskamp’s underdog status ended on the second day of the 2009 heptathlon when she ran a stout 2:43.34 in the 800 meters and cleared 4-9 in the high jump, two events in which she had little experience.

“Her thing has been the pole vault,” White said. “Ever since she was in junior high, everybody starting knowing Ariel because she could pole vault. She went 11-6 in the ninth grade at the state indoor meet. So if you weren’t in the pole-vault circles, you really didn’t know who Ariel was.”

Still, with Celsor, coming off an appearance in the 6A state basketball finals and returning stronger than ever to defend her heptathlon crown — a top-five finish for Voskamp will make her the favorite for next year’s event.

“This year, she’s matured so much, everything she’s done in competition has not intimidated her,” White said. “Where in the past, she would get nervous. Now, she just believes she can do it.”

One advantage Voskamp feels she has over competitors is the ability to put pressure and expectations out of her mind.

“I don’t have a lot of pressure on me, because I know I do better when I’m not stressing about it,” Voskamp said. “It’s a lot different from last year, but it’s not worrying me by any means.”

Voskamp also has a background in gymnastics. She credits her early years of work on the beam, uneven bars and pommel horses in her strength development, and also her competitive spirit.

NCAA Division I schools cannot officially talk to Voskamp until July 1, but when that date arrives, Voskamp is interested in talking to Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas. There have also been smaller schools that have expressed interest.

Voskamp has had her share of injuries, and her rehabilitation has made an impact on her. So much so that she sees physical therapy as a possible career path.

Voskamp has what she defines as a “slight” case of scoliosis, which she combats with massage therapy every two weeks.

“Everything on me just gets out of line,” she said. “I think that’s the cause of a lot of my injuries.”

A heptathlon victory would put Voskamp in the state record books alongside some pretty big names, including Arkansas track star Whitney Jones, who won the event twice as a Searcy Lady Lion in 2007-08. But the biggest record in Voskamp’s eyes sits 14 feet above the pole-vault standards.

The 7A state record is 12-10 and the overall state record is 13-6.25, set by Lake Hamilton’s Stephanie Foreman two years ago. Voskamp is aiming even higher.

“I would love to have the state title,” Voskamp said. “It’s what I’m shooting for next year, it really is. And to maybe be the first girl in Arkansas to get 14 feet is something I have to strive for. It’s a good goal.”

Coach White is also confident in Voskamp’s quest.

“She’ll break the state record next year for sure,” White said. “We’re hoping she will break the overall state record of 13-6. It’s just that she has to get a lot of vaulting in this summer, and she’s planning on doing some summer meets.

“If she progresses like we think, we believe she’ll have a chance at the overall record.”

But until those summer meets begin, Voskamp is focused on the heptathlon. And should the battle Thursday with Celsor come down to the 800-meter run, traditionally the final event of the heptathlon, Voskamp’s strategy is simple.

“I’m just going to gut that thing out,” Voskamp said with a laugh. “I’m going as fast as I can — I mean, I don’t care.”