Elien Vekemans soars to another career best to claim Tyson Invitational pole vault

FAYETTEVILLE – Razorback Elien Vekemans posted her second win and improved her career best for the third time this indoor season in winning the pole vault with a height of 14-5.25 (4.40) during the first day of the Tyson Invitational on Friday.

Elsewhere, speed was on display in abundance on the Randal Tyson Track Center. Jayla Hollis posted a career best 8.08 in the prelims of the 60m hurdles and matched it in the final to improve her time at No. 5 on the Arkansas all-time list.

In the 400m, Rosey Effiong led the Razorback crew with a 52.14 season best to place third overall while Britton Wilson finished sixth with a career best of 52.50, moving to No. 10 on the UA all-time list.

Vekemans mark moves her to No. 8 on the Arkansas all-time list. Meanwhile, on the Belgium all-time list, Vekemans is now the No. 2 performer with an equal No. 5 performance. The current national record is 14-10.25 (4.53) set by Fanny Smets in 2021. Vekemans improved her under 23 Belgian record as well.

“The first jump at it 14-9 was good, then I went up to a pole that I haven’t been on yet,” stated Vekemans, whose previous best of 14-3.25 (4.35) was set in Lubbock in January. “So, I’ll need to get used to it. It’s definitely there. It’s a goal for conference or nationals.

“First my goal was 4.40 indoor and 4.50 outdoor, but now my goal is to jump 4.50 indoor already and outdoors we’ll see what happens.”

Clean with first attempt makes at 12-9, 13-3, and 13-9, Vekemans passed 14-2.75 (4.34) and then made 14-5.25 on her second attempt while two other competitors missed that height. Vekemans then attempted and missed at 14-9 (4.50).

“The warm-up wasn’t going as I wanted it to, and my ankle was hurting a little bit,” noted Vekemans. “Once I started getting into the meet my jumps got better and I didn’t miss any jumps until 4.40. My dad had the idea of passing at 4.34, because even if I jump it, I’ve already jumped 4.35 previously, so it won’t mean anything. So, I could save my energy a little bit for 4.40 and it worked out.”

The Ole Miss tandem of Lyndsey Reed and Samara McConnell placed second and third with 14-2.75 clearances. Razorback Mackenzie Hayward tied for fourth place at 13-9 (4.19) and nearly set a career best on her attempts at 14-2.75.

Collegiate leader Lisa Gunnarsson of LSU, who cleared 14-9.5 (4.51) last week, opted not to jump and retired from the competition. 

The winner of the hurdle final was LSU’s Alia Armstrong, who clocked 7.81 to break the previous meet record of 7.85 set by Gail Devers in 2003. Armstrong, who previously shared the 2022 collegiate leading time of 7.86 with Florida’s Grace Stark, became the No. 2 performer with the No. 3 performance on the all-time collegiate list. She is also equal No. 9 on the U.S. all-time list with Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Stark was runner-up in the final at 8.00 while Hollis finished fourth in matching her PR. Razorbacks Daszay Freeman (8.20) and Yoveinny Mota (8.22) placed sixth and seventh. Freeman had a season best of 8.11 in the prelim.

“When you look around the country, the hurdlers are moving fast,” said Arkansas associate head coach Chris Johnson. “Obviously, we’re happy with where Jayla is right now, but there is more we need to do to get her prepared for the conference meet and hopefully qualify for nationals.

“All in all, from a team perspective, we did well. The quarter-milers ran well, competed hard, and maybe not as fast as they would like, but that’s track and field. You have to go out and execute to shave off time they have already produced. It’s going to really take almost a perfect effort and execution. We’re trending in the right direction.”

Over 60m, Jada Baylark and LSU’s Favour Ofili battled through a pair of races. In the prelims, both posted a time of 7.29 in the same heat, with Baylark holding a slim edge (7.281 to 7.289). Then in the final Ofili claimed the win in 7.25 with Baylark runner-up at 7.26 while Joella Lloyd of Tennessee finished third in 7.27.

Other Razorbacks racing the 400m included Paris Peoples (52.58), Joanne Reid (53.99) and Ashanti Denton (54.46). Arkansas volunteer assistant Shamier Little won the event in 51.92 ahead of a 52.07 by LSU’s Amber Anning from another section.

G’Auna Edwards, who ran 8.31 in the 60m hurdle prelims, finished seventh in the Invitational long jump with a leap of 20-6.5 (6.26) with Arkansas alum Taliyah Brooks ninth at 20-5.25 (6.23). Georgia Brain set a career best of 18-4.25 (5.59) in the open long jump.

Tara Davis claimed the Invitational long jump with a meet record distance of 22-5.25 (6.84). The previous meet record of 22-5 (6.83) was set in 2011 by Marshevet Myers. Florida’s Jasmine Moore hit a mark of 21-5.25 (6.53) as runner-up.

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