Tuesday, June 09, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Voskamp hopes for NCAA crown

Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ senior NCAA record-holding women’s pole vaulter and her heirs apparent will attempt to help vault coach Lance Harter’s Razorbacks to NCAA Indoor team championship heights at this week’s NCAA Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships Thursday and Saturday in Eugene, Ore.

Sandi Morris, the senior NCAA outdoor record-holder and NCAA indoor champion, and junior Ariel Voskamp of Cabot, a NCAA outdoor All-American last year and SEC outdoor runner-up to Morris this year, as well as freshman Desiree Freier vault this week.

Morris, Voskamp and Freier not only vaulted for the first national team championship in the history of the University of Arkansas’ entire women’s athletic program, but for the SEC indoor and outdoor champions, completing the women’s third-ever SEC triple crown that began with Harter’s cross country team winning the SEC meet last fall.

“To win our third triple crown and be a part of our first national championship, I want to do it again,” Voskamp said. “For me, it’s very special and has kept me going all season. I have had a few injuries and it’s been a little bit of a roller coaster, but knowing we are potential national champions and the triple crown, that has pushed me. I want to be a part of that.”

Enough so that she vaults despite a stress fracture in her foot.

“The stress fracture has been bothering me all year,” Voskamp said. “Two years ago I had foot surgery but I got over that. And about two weeks into the season I had a nasty ankle sprain. You just have to keep your head down and keep going through it.”

Voskamp vaulted a career best 14-2 3/4, placing second at the SEC outdoor to Morris’ women’s collegiate record-setting 15-5 3-4. Freier cleared 13-11 3/4 for fifth.

Morris’ heights played a part in pushing the other vaulters to peak performances, Voskamp said.

“She sets the bar so high for us,” Voskamp said. “It’s really good for everybody. All of our expectations are a lot higher just from jumping with her every day.”

Morris is the meet’s co-favorite with the great Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin University. Each has gone back and forth setting collegiate records indoors and outdoors in 2015. Morris touts Freier and says she knows from Voskamp’s past SEC and NCAA meets, including her All-American fifth-place jumps at last year’s NCAA Outdoor, to count on her contributing with Arkansas ranked No. 2 and host Oregon favored.

“Ariel has worked so hard,” Morris said. “She is just another whole ballgame coming back from injuries. She has scored at nationals and I think she has a good chance of placing in the top four or five at this outdoor nationals.”

Arkansas women’s vault coach Bryan Compton concurs, particularly after Voskamp gutted it out qualifying in the top 12 at the NCAA West Preliminary meet at Austin, Texas, which Morris achieved with a single vault.

“I look for Ariel like she did last year,” Compton said. “She always comes through at these big meets. We were down to our last jump at regionals and she ended up making it and made another bar to qualify. At SEC’s we were kind of struggling coming in and she comes through with a second place and a new PR. So I am hoping she does the same thing as last year and be fifth or even better at the NCAA Championships.”

The team title is huge to Morris, a North Carolina native and University of North Carolina transfer who has become thoroughly a Razorback.

“Gosh, we have already made history by winning indoor nationals,” Morris said. “If we were to win another one this outdoor it would be literally a dream come true.”

Morris set the collegiate indoor record at 15-1 1-2 in January in Fayetteville. Payne bettered that the next night, then smashed it, vaulting 15-7.

However, Payne’s form was off at the NCAA indoor and she didn’t clear a height while Morris won at 15-1.

Each has held the collegiate outdoor record in 2015, with Morris currently on top with her 15-5 3-4 SEC title.

“I do not think I would have jumped so high this year if I didn’t have Demi right there pushing me,” Morris said. “It has kind of pushed both of us to our limits. To have two girls jumping around 15-6 in college, and the record before this year was 15-1 … we have upped the bar a lot this year. It’s really cool to be a part of history.”

Morris concludes her collegiate career in Oregon, but above 14-0 vaulting twins from Cabot, Lexi and Tori Weeks, are signed to arrive.

“They have gotten nearly every single record I set at Cabot High School, but that’s OK,” Voskamp said. “At least I gave them something to shoot for and they went up and beyond that. They are amazing athletes and going to be a really good addition to this team.”