Tuesday, May 31, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot trio vaults into Nationals

Leader sports editor

Though still despising that the NCAA West Preliminary Outdoor meet exists, Arkansas Men’s track coach Chris Bucknam and especially Arkansas Women’s track coach Lance Harter, love the results of last week’s abbreviated meet in Lawrence, Kan.

Arkansaw 4x100-meter relay team ran the fastest time in the world this year, and three pole vaulters from Cabot finished in the Top-7 to lead 21 Razorback Women as qualifiers for the NCAA Outdoor Nationals next week at the University of Oregon.

Arkansas freshmen Lexi and Tori Weeks officially finished first and fifth, but both cleared 13-feet, 10-inches before passing on further jumps, as did several other pole-vaulters in the competition. Bad weather conditions made the technical precision event difficult and in some cases dangerous, prompting the mass passes.

Arkansas senior Ariel Voskamp, also a Cabot graduate, cleared 13-6 ¼ to also qualify for nationals. She finished sixth in the nation in 2014.

The NCAA mandates that to advance to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, teams must finish in the Top-12 of a 48-athlete field in one of the two preliminaries, East or West.

Those 24 in each event, the Top-12 from the East prelims and the Top-12 in the West, will converge on Eugene, Ore. So will the Top-24 men’s and women’s relay teams.

Bucknam and Harter prefer the old method of qualifying for nationals in which the season’s best performances in descending order formulate the NCAA Outdoor championship field. Both coaches, and many others, believe the regional prelims are overburdening athletes, especially elite ones in an Olympic year.

It became an additional hardship in Lawrence because thunderstorms washed out last Thursday’s first day.

Scheduled to span three afternoons and three nights, the meet was condensed to two mornings and afternoons of finals only, with no preliminary rounds.

The sense of urgency sparked some peak performances.

Arkansas’ women’s 4x400 relay of Damajahaee Birch, Daina Harper, Monisa Dobbins, from Nashville, and SEC Outdoor 400-meter champion Taylor Ellis-Watson anchoring, clocked the year’s best in the world time of 3:25.48, holding off Texas on Saturday.

“The University of Texas is the No. 1 team in the nation and had run 3:26, and we ended up beating them and ran 3:25, the fastest time in the world,” Harter said. “They had the World Relays in April at the Bahamas. We actually ran faster than those countries did.”

Heptathletes Taliyah Brooks, Payton Stumbaugh, Alex Gochenour and Leigha Brown were already qualified for nationals, and Harter has 21 advancing from Lawrence to Eugene.

“It couldn’t have gone better except for the weather,” Harter said, noting, “Yeah, I do,” on feeling better about Arkansas’ chances against NCAA Indoor champion Oregon after competing head to head against Oregon in Lawrence.

Bucknam noted NCAA Indoor Men’s champion and NCAA Outdoor host Oregon begins with a given 30 points from anticipated first places from Edward Cheserek in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters; and high hurdler Devon Allen. But of his No. 5 ranked SEC champion Razorbacks, he asserted, “We have Jarrion (Lawson, the NCAA Indoor long jump champion and superb sprinter) and our own guys, too.”

Sprinter Marqueze Washington, who injured a hamstring during the SEC Outdoor meet, ran much better in Lawrence.

“Our sprint crew ran phenomenally well,” Bucknam said. “Marqueze is back and looking great. Jarrion looked phenomenal, really good. Clive (Pullen, the NCAA Indoor triple jump champion) took one jump and didn’t have to jump again. Kenzo Cotton is 100 percent now. So I think we are hitting our stride.”

Bucknam has 20 athletes bound for Eugene.