Tuesday, March 15, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Weeks is first freshman champ

Lexi Weeks became the first freshman ever to win an NCAA pole vault championship.
Special to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – Though their indoor track and field teams finished No. 2, there is nothing second best about how Arkansas Men’s coach Chris Bucknam and Arkansas Women’s coach Lance Harter regard their Razorbacks.

For Harter’s women, freshman Lexi Weeks of Cabot became the first freshman to win the NCAA Indoor pole vault, clearing a personal record 15-2 1-4.

Doubtless, the Weeks twin sisters, Tori Weeks vaulted 14-1 1-2 and scored three sixth-place team points in addition to Lexi’s 10 for first, become the first freshman twins scoring All-American points in the women’s vault.

Lexi Weeks becomes the fourth vaulter coached by Arkansas’ women’s vault coach Bryan Compton that vaulted to a NCAA championship.

Sandi Morris, the best known of Compton’s national champions and now vaulting professionally, vaulted 16-2 to win at the USATF national championship and will represent the U.S. at the World Indoor Championships.

“You have two freshman pole vaulters that’s always kind of a wild card,” Harter said. “But the Weeks sisters, they acted like they were fifth-year seniors. ‘What’s the big deal? Let’s do what we have been doing all season.’ They and coach Compton have such a great bond. For Lexi to win it as a freshman was just incredible.”

Harter’s SEC Indoor champion women, nationally ranked No. 4 behind Oregon and the Florida and Georgia teams they defeated at the SEC Indoor in Fayetteville, finished second with 50 points, just three behind the Oregon Ducks they outpointed to win last year’s NCAA Indoor in Fayetteville, while Georgia was third with 45 points.

Those exceeding expectations in supporting roles were as highly praised by their coaches as were their champions.

“I think every kid got back a lifetime best,” Harter said. “It was absolutely amazing. To have that many entries and each one hit a lifetime best that’s a tribute to the athlete and also a tribute to the coaching progressions that you always want to be at the top of your game for the most important meet of the year. I was really proud of that. We just kept scoring across the board.”

Harter said Arkansas established the momentum the first day with Taliyah Brooks, Payton Stumbaugh, scoring an All-American seventh in Saturday’s 60-meter hurdles and Alex Gochenour placing second, fifth and sixth in Friday’s pentathlon to become a team’s first trio of pentathletes to score at the NCAA meet, Harter said.

Also Taylor Ellis-Watson doubled brilliantly with a 51.51 second-place 400-meter dash time and anchoring Arkansas’ second-place 4 x 400 relay and Arkansas’ 11th-seeded distance medley relay, anchored by Jessica Kamilos for the mile, placed fifth.

Among his men, Bucknam lauded sprinter Kenzo Cotton placing in both the 60 and 200-meter dashes, Andreas Trajovski netting fifth in the long jump and freshman Carlton Orange netting sixth in the 800.

“Absolutely our guys gave it everything they had,” Bucknam said. “Obviously as a coach I am really proud of that. Last year indoors we were second in the SEC and third at the NCAA, so it feels awfully good to have won that SEC championship and have that national runner-up trophy.”