Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A two-time graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Scott off to great start
Arkansas junior Dominique Scott leads the pack around a turn in the women's mile during a dual meet against Texas on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Dominique Scott doesn't consider herself a mile runner.
That's what made the junior's performance two weeks ago during a dual meet between Arkansas and Texas all the more impressive. Scott ran the mile in 4:38.49, more than 6 seconds faster than her previous best and faster than anyone else this year in the NCAA.
"I'm actually not focusing on the mile this year which is what made running that fast so exciting," Scott said. "I'm focusing on the 3k and the 5k. For me to get that time as a 3k runner, I was very pleased running that.
"It was a confidence booster and showed me that I really could run with the best in the nation. There were two milers in that race and I was able to out-kick both of them."
Scott finished the mile more than 2 seconds faster than Arkansas' most accomplished mile runner Stephanie Brown, a senior all-American.
"We're very, very good friends," Scott said. "We were both very surprised. From her side I think it was almost a good thing because she has definitely stepped up her training since and used it as motivation."
But Scott wasn't finished in Arkansas' win over the No. 1 team in the country. She went the extra mile, quite literally, a couple of hours later when she anchored the Razorbacks' distance medley relay team, which finished with an NCAA-leading time of 11:25.58.
The U.S. Track and Field & Cross Country Coaches Association tabbed Scott as its national athlete of the week as a result.
"It was definitely a tough day and I was pretty tired, but I had to just think of it in terms of a workout," said Scott, who estimates she runs 70 miles per week. "At the NCAA meet I'll have to run as an individual and then as part of the relay, so I was just practicing for that big meet.
"I wanted to push myself. I knew there was no reason to kill myself (in the DMR), but I wanted to see what I could do while I was relaxed. I guess I was running a little on adrenaline."
The feats were the latest in a year full of accomplishments for Scott, who was the Southeastern Conference's runner of the year during the cross country season. Scott led a 1-2-3 finish for the Razorbacks at the SEC cross country meet and finished 15th in below-freezing temperatures at the NCAA meet three weeks later.
These are the type of results Scott hoped for when she boarded a plane in her native South Africa and left for the University of Arkansas in 2011.
"I'm so glad I came to the states because it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself," Scott said. "I came here without my parents or anyone else and with two little suitcases. It was a scary transition but I could not be more pleased….I've really learned hard work does pay off and eventually it will all come together.
"I still Skype all the time with my family back home and they are my top supporters. They wear their Arkansas gear whenever I have a race even though it might be 2 a.m. when I'm racing and they're asleep in their Razorback T-shirts."
Those around the Razorbacks program said they can see increased leadership from Scott. She attributes that to added confidence.
"Instead of having insecurities about yourself and your own races, you're able to help your teammates and make them feel confident about themselves," Scott said. "A lot of people think this is an individual sport, but we're pushing each other during our workouts. If you can get those kind of people around you, you'll run some great times."
After their impressive win over Texas, the No. 7 Razorbacks will go up against several of the nation's best this weekend. The Razorback Invitational includes six of the nation's top nine teams in the USTFCCCA rankings, making it feel like a mini preview of the NCAA meet in March.
Texas, which fell to No. 2 in the latest rankings, highlights a field that includes No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Texas A&M, No. 6 Kentucky and No. 9 Stanford.
"We've just got to stimulate our kids with quality competition," Arkansas coach Lance Harter said. "When those other jerseys come into our facility that's what gets us really fired up and excited."
Scott will run the 5,000 meters this weekend in addition to the DMR, and she hopes to qualify for the NCAA meet in the 3,000 meters next month at Washington. She doesn't anticipate her mile time will hold up as the season progresses, but said she'll run the mile at the NCAA meet in Albuquerque, N.M. later this year if it does qualify.
"I would definitely go out there and give it my all," Scott said.