Monday, January 25, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot crowding UA track

Leader sports editor

A recent New York Times article called Arkansas “kind of a little Mecca of pole vaulting.” Indeed since Earl Bell of Arkansas State University broke the men’s world record in 1976 and later established Bell Athletics in Jonesboro, many of the nation’s top vaulters have hailed from the Natural State.

But if there is a center square within the pole vaulting Mecca, it’s in Cabot, at least for the women. That fact is being exhibited now at the University of Arkansas, where the top three vaulters for the defending national championship team are all from Cabot High School. Fifth-year senior Ariel Voskamp and true freshmen Lexi and Tori Weeks each finished 1-2-3 in the UA’s first NCAA track meet of the season, and the Weeks sisters’ first college track meet of their careers.

Lexi won the meet with a jump of 14-feet, 9-inches. Tori finished second and Ariel third, but neither came close to their personal record.

And there’s a fourth Cabot athlete competing for Arkansas this year. Micah Huckabee, who is a two-time state champion, will redshirt this year as a distance runner. She will compete as an unattached athlete in all the Razorbacks’ home meets as she increases her strength and weekly mileage after a hip injury hampered her training regimen as a high school senior.

For the vaulters, Voskamp and the twins graduated five years apart, and so they didn’t have much of a personal relationship. But Voskamp left a legacy that the Weeks built upon, and were very much aware of as Lady Panthers.

Cabot track coach Leon White remembers her contributions fondly.

“Ariel would do whatever you asked with no hesitation or questions asked,” said White. “She ran the maximum events just like the twins did. They were all three very dedicated workers and great teammates.”

Voskamp, a four-time All-American, finished second in the SEC indoor and outdoor meets last season, clearing personal records in each meet. She finished fifth in the nation as a sophomore and seventh as a junior. She has a personal record of 14-3, and believes she’s on the precipice of going much higher this season.

“I think my training is going really well and practices have been really good,” said Voskamp at last weekend’s meet. “I have a few things to work out with my technique and correct a few things I did wrong, but I’m looking to my best year yet.”

Voskamp was on the front end of massive leaps in high school girls’ jump heights. New national records were set seemingly every year since Voskamp got to college. The 2014 national record holder, Desiree Freier, is also on the Razorback team, but she suffered an ankle injury that will likely sideline her all season.

Last year, the Weeks sisters traded records back-and-forth, with Lexi finally prevailing with an outdoor jump of 14-7.5 in their final competition as high school athletes. Tori is still the indoor record holder at 14-4 after breaking Lexi’s mark.

“It’s amazing how high some of these high school girls have gone,” Voskamp said. “It’s like, 15 (feet) is becoming the new 14. That used to be the mark that only a very few achieved. Now that’s changing.”

Tori Weeks also won the New Balance High School National Outdoor meet over the summer. Like Lexi, the training regimen for Tori has been an adjustment. She also won the state triple jump and 300-meter hurdles, and competed and placed in many other events as well. Now it’s all about vaulting.

“The training is better just from the standpoint of being every day,” said Tori. “We used to only get to practice vaulting once a week and we had to train for several events during the week. Now all the training is focused towards jumping and that’s exciting.”

The main difference in training specifically for pole vault, as opposed to multiple events, is strength training, according to Lexi Weeks.

“There’s so much more strength training,” said Lexi just after winning last Saturday’s meet. “I knew I had had a really good week of practice coming in. I can see the strength training paying off already. It’s allowed me to get a high grip on the bar and that’s what helped me to the new PR. I’m really excited to get to focus just on this one event now.”

Lexi’s height last week qualified her for the NCAA nationals as well as the Olympic trials, which will take place in Oregon from July 1-10.

Tori Weeks and Voskamp are also within striking distance of that trial standard, and have several meets to attain that goal.

All four Cabot athletes will compete in the Razorback Invitational next Friday at the Randal Tyson Track Center. It will be a much larger meet with much more renowned national competition than last week’s meet, which was mostly against much smaller programs.
Competing against the No. 1 ranked Razorback Women will be second-ranked Georgia, third-ranked Texas, No. 5 Oregon and No. 6 Florida, as well as No. 12 LSU, No. 21 Texas A&M, Iowa, Iowa St., Kansas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.