UA women answer challenge of USC

By: Bob Holt
Published: Monday, March 11, 2019
Arkansas celebrates after winning a national title at the NCAA Division I indoor championships on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala.
Photo by Arkansas Athletics
Arkansas celebrates after winning a national title at the NCAA Division I indoor championships on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala.

FAYETTEVILLE -- With three finals involving the University of Arkansas women's track and field team still to be determined Saturday night at the NCAA Indoor Championships, Coach Lance Harter said there was no guarantee the No. 1-ranked Razorbacks were going to take the title.

Southern California, ranked No. 2, had gotten victories from Kaelin Roberts in the 400 meters, and Twanisha Terry in the 60 to grab a 13-point lead over Arkansas.

"It was one of those deals where about midway through you're going, boy, it's not looking so good," Harter said. "We really had our hands full."

The Razorbacks were expecting big points in the pole vault, but seniors Lexi Jacobus and Tori Hoggard -- twin sisters from Cabot ranked 1-2 nationally going into the meet -- were struggling.

Jacobus missed her first two attempts at 14 feet, 9½ inches, and Hoggard missed her first two at 14-5½.

"The kids were watching the scoreboard, and everything wasn't going perfect by any means," Harter said. "But the twins, they just have ice water in their veins.

"When it really comes down to it and their backs are against the wall, it just seems they rally when they need it."

Jacobus cleared her last attempt at 14-9½ and went on to win her fourth NCAA title with a best mark of 15-1½. Hoggard cleared her last attempt at 14-5½ and took third at 14-11½. Arkansas also got a fourth-place finish in the vault from senior Desiree Freier -- ranked No. 7 going into the meet -- at 14-7½.

The 21 points in the vault helped the Razorbacks overtake USC and win the team title 62 points to 51.

Arkansas also got strong performances in the 3,000 from junior Taylor Werner and redshirt freshman Lauren Gregory, and clinched the championship in the 1,600 relay.

"Before the 3,000, I told Taylor and Lauren, 'If we could scratch out 3 or 4 points, that would give us more of a cushion going into the relay,' " Harter said. "Then Taylor had one of the best races of her life, and Lauren just wasn't going to be denied getting on the podium."

Werner, who anchored Arkansas' distance medley relay to a fourth-place finish Friday night, took second in the 3,000. Gregory took seventh after finishing 10th earlier Saturday in the mile.

"That gave us a nice 10-point bump," Harter said. "So we were up by eight [56 to 48], and then our relay was really fired up like, 'Hey, we can lock this up.' "

Arkansas and USC both had teams in the 1,600 relay, and the Razorbacks had to finish at least sixth to clinch the title if the Trojans won the race.

The team of Morgan Burks-Magee, Kethlin Campbell, Kiara Parker and Payton Chadwick took third while USC finished sixth.

"When there was a challenge from USC, we had the athletes to come back and answer that," Harter said. "We even did some things that were totally unexpected."

The 1,600 relay was the third race Saturday and fifth of the weekend for Chadwick, a senior from Springdale who also finished third in the 60 hurdles and 200 despite suffering a deep cut in her right knee Friday night when she hit a hurdle in the prelims.

"Talk about a warrior in competition -- that's Payton," Harter said. "She's a go-to person for us. To use a basketball analogy, if we need a last-second shot, get Payton the ball. She's going to take care of what we need."

It was the third national championship Arkansas has won in the past five years, including indoors in 2015 and outdoors in 2016.

"It's as exciting to win this latest title as it was to win the first one," Harter said. "Each team is a different set of puzzle pieces."

Including the relay teams, 13 Razorbacks combined to score in eight events.

"We had multiple weapons," Harter said. "That depth factor really helped us."

Arkansas was ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll and stayed at the top.

"When we were ranked No. 1 before the season started, I thought it could be the kiss of death," Harter said. "But the leadership of our team is so rock steady with Payton and the twins and some of the others. They did a great job of saying, 'Hey, keep our feet on the ground and let's just take care of the task at hand.' "

Sports on 03/11/2019

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