Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships:
Razorback senior is right on track
Arkansas senior Kirsten Hesseltine competes in the high jump during the third day of the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field West Preliminary Meet at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Kirsten Hesseltine was ready to be a Fighting Camel. Instead, she's become a high jumping Razorback.
Hesseltine was a three-time all-state volleyball player for Springdale Har-Ber High School and in the fall of her senior year committed to play for Campbell University, a Big South Conference school in Buies Creek, N.C., which uses Fighting Camels as its sports teams' nickname.
NCAA OUTDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS
WHERE Eugene, Ore.
DEFENDING CHAMPIONS Men: Florida and Texas A&M. Women: Kansas
TEAM FAVORITES Men: Oregon, Texas A&M, Texas, Arkansas. Women: Texas, Texas A&M, Oregon, Florida.
UA NATIONAL RANKINGS Men: No. 4. Women: No. 7
Then in the spring, Hesseltine high jumped 5-8 in only her second year of participation in track and field. Her track coaches at Har-Ber, Brett and Jodi Unger, told Hesseltine she could be a high jumper in college.
"I was just like, 'Are you serious?' " Hesseltine said. "That's when the wheels started turning in my head that maybe I should try track instead of volleyball."
Jodi Unger was a pole vaulter at Arkansas and got Hesseltine in touch with Razorbacks field events coach Bryan Compton.
"Once I knew Arkansas was interested, it happened really quickly about changing my mind to track," Hesseltine said. "The coaches gave me a pretty convincing argument, saying, 'You're not going to win any SEC championships at Campbell. You're not going to get to go to nationals.'
"I decided, 'I can't pass up the chance to go to Arkansas.' "
Hesseltine scored a combined 14 points at SEC indoor and outdoor meets the past two years, including a third-place finish outdoors this year, to help the Razorbacks win the 2013 SEC Indoor title and 2014 SEC Outdoor title.
This weekend she will cap her college career by competing at the NCAA Championships, which will be held Wednesday through Saturday in Eugene, Ore. The women's high jump is Saturday.
"She's had a fabulous career, and we're looking for her to carry it through this last meet," Compton said.
Arkansas Coach Lance Harter said it was an easy call to recruit Hesseltine on the Ungers' recommendation.
"The Ungers thought she had a lot of upside for the future, and she was a great student, so we were real excited to have her join us," Harter said. "Bryan mapped out a short-term and a long-term program for her, and she has followed that a tee.
"She's incredibly tenacious and very coachable to have made this continual progression."
Hesseltine had a career best 5-10 1/2 at the Arkansas Invitational this spring, but she has been clearing 6-0 in practice. She advanced to nationals for the second consecutive year by winning the NCAA West Preliminaries at 5-9 3/4 before the competition ended because the 12 qualifiers had been determined.
"If the bar had been at six feet on her last attempt, she would have made it easy," Harter said.
When the NCAA meet was held in Eugene last year, Hesseltine took 17th at 5-9 3/4.
"That was my first time at nationals and the Oregon track was just packed," she said. "I remember looking around and saying, 'Oh my goodness.'
"Going there for the second time is going to make it a lot more comfortable. I think I'm motivated to do well instead of just being, 'I'm at nationals.' Now I want to kick butt."
Compton said he's confident Hesseltine can finish among the top eight to score and earn All-America honors.
"From 17th to eighth is just one bar," Compton said. "Just one extra jump."
Hesseltine had a best of 5-7 as a freshman while adjusting to Compton's training regime.
"Her freshman year was a little bit rough having to learn a new program," Compton said. "Now she teaches my young ones what to do."
Hesseltine said she always rooted for the Razorbacks while growing up in Springdale and saw Arkansas' female athletes as role models.
"Just being able to put on a Razorback jersey and compete and score points for us to win the SEC meet, I've never felt anything like that before," she said. "I used to look up to all the girls in every sport at Arkansas and be like, 'That's so cool.'
"Now to be out there contributing for Arkansas, it fills me with a lot of pride."
Sports on 06/08/2014