Wildcats tested by nation’s track elite at Razorback Invite

It was a busy weekend for the University of Arizona track & field team.

The Wildcats set a new school record, three nation-leading marks, and a second-place national mark.

And along the way, recorded a number of personal-best times.

It all happened at the Razorback Invitational at the University of Arkansas, where the Cats got their first taste of competition this season against some of the nation’s top teams, including the No. 1 men’s team from LSU and the No. 1 women’s team at Oregon.  The field included four of the Top 10 men’s squads and three of the Top 10 women’s teams.

UA head coach, Fred Harvey, called his team’s performance “the greatest of his career.”

That’s saying a lot, since Harvey has been around the track more than a few times, so to speak.   He has enjoyed a very productive career at Arizona.

The eighth-year head coach, who spent 15 years as an assistant and associate head coach at UofA before taking over as head coach during the 2002-03 season, has led the men’s team to six consecutive Top 25 finishes outdoors and the women’s team to Top 25 finishes in both indoor and outdoor competition for the last four years.

The women, who finished in second place in the Pac-10 last year, are ranked No. 19 in the country this season.

A trio of local athletes stepped to the forefront for the women during the two-day competition at Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.

Christina Rodgers, a former 5A-II state champion in the 800 meters while attending Central High School in Phoenix, turned in a 2:05.91 time in the 800 meters, the second fastest in the NCAA this season, but was shaded by Oklahoma State’s Natalja Piliusina’s 2:05.86 in a photo finish.

The redshirt senior then joined with Deanna Sullivan, Echos Blevins, and Georganne Moline to win their heat of the 4×400 relay in a new school-record time of 3:37.08.   The foursome also holds the ASU outdoor school record in the relay event.

Blevins is a redshirt junior from South Mountain High School in Phoenix, where she helped the school to three 5A-II state championships and competed in the USATF Arizona junior Olympics all four years.  Moline is a redshirt sophomore who attended Thunderbird High School in Phoenix, where she was the 4A-I state champion in the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles as a senior.

Sullivan, a senior from Canada, also won her heat in the 800 meters, finishing in 2:08.81 for the sixth-fastest time overall at the meet.  And Moline set a personal-best time of 54.40 to win her heat in the 400 meters, the 10th fastest time at the meet.

Also competing for the women’s team, LaTisha Holden and Dahlys Marshall both advanced to the finals in the 60-meter hurdles.  Holden finished in fourth overall and her time of 8.37 was one of the fastest in the country so far this season.  Marshall finished in seventh place with a time of 8.60.

On the men’s side, James Eichberger set the third national-leading mark of the weekend for the Cats, winning the 800 meters in a time of 1:48.53, a personal-best time and just four-tenths of a second off the NCAA automatic qualifying mark.

Eichenberger is another athlete familiar to Arizona track fans.  The redshirt sophomore from Catalina Magnet High School in Tucson was one of the premier track & field athletes during his high school career.   He won six state championships during his junior and senior years in the 400- and 800-meter events and also ran a leg for the school’s state championship 4×400 relay team.

In the sprints, Chris McSwain made it to the finals in the men’s 60-meter dash, matched his career-best time of 6.79, and finished fourth overall among 35 athletes in that event.

The distance competition rounded out the Wildcats’ impressive performances.  Lawi Lalang and Stephen Sambu finished second and third in the 3,000 meters, with Lalang posting a time of 7:55.05 and Sambu right off his shoulder in 7.55.62.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)