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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas women's track and field coach Lance Harter watches Saturday, April 23, 2016, during the John McDonnell Invitational at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville. - Photo by Andy Shupe

FAYETTEVILLE -- They definitely remain the NCAA Outdoor Women's Track Outdoor Track and Field Championships heavy favorite, but the once untouchable Oregon Ducks just might have fallen within the grasp of Arkansas and others.

The Ducks ran away with the NCAA Women's Indoor Championships last March in College Station, Texas. They are anticipated to romp June 7-10 with the NCAA Outdoor, which Oregon hosts in Eugene, Ore.

The day after his reigning NCAA Women's Outdoor champion University of Arkansas team convincingly won the 2017 SEC Women's Outdoor in Columbia, S.C., coach Lance Harter acknowledged Oregon's prowess.

"I think Oregon already has the trophy in the trophy case inscribed with 2017 National Outdoor Champions," Harter said.

But after going head to head with the Ducks and the rest of the West last week in the NCAA West Outdoor Preliminary in Austin, Texas, Harter saw his Razorbacks exceed NCAA Outdoor qualifying expectations while the Ducks fall slightly short of theirs.

"Oregon did have some setbacks," Harter said Sunday. "Three of their 1,500-meter runners didn't advance and their 400-meter relay was disqualified and one of their really good sprinters, Hannah Cunliffe (injured hamstring) wasn't able to go. They had probably a 30- or 40-point advantage and I still think they have a heck of a team, but they definitely made it a little more realistic for a lot of us to challenge."

Arkansas, Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia and Southern California are the hopefuls.

Freshman Katie Rainsberger was Oregon's lone qualifier of its four NCAA West Preliminary 1,500-meter entrants, which caused some eye-rolling.

Nikki Hiltz and Therese Haiss -- who transferred to Arkansas from Oregon after the latter added heralded recruits -- weathered the 107-degree heat index in Austin to qualify for Eugene after finishing first and third in the 1,500.

"Some of my peers definitely took note of that," Harter said. "Nikki (the SEC Outdoor 1,500 champion with Haiss SEC third) and Therese are running so, so well."

Even if the Ducks again are not in peak form, it's still a stretch for them to be overcome in Eugene.

"If there is a team that can hemorrhage and still be OK they have the ability to survive that the rest of us don't," Harter said.

However, Harter has more NCAA Outdoor Championship depth than he would have believed.

"Everybody and more," Harter said of anticipated Arkansas qualifiers advancing from Austin to Eugene. "Above and beyond what we predicted. The first round is pretty cutthroat because it goes from 48 in every event to 12. We have some people that were probably a little bit of a surprise."

Probably none more surprising than freshman Jada Baylark of Little Rock Parkview in the open 100-meter dash and 4-by-100 relay.

"We recruited her as a long jumper/triple jumper but her sprint side has developed tremendously," Harter said.

Freshman Abby Gray, "with a pretty phenomenal kick in the 5,000 to pass three people in the last home stretch," surprised, too, Harter said.

Sports on 05/29/2017

Print Headline: Oregon's slip gives Arkansas a fighting chance

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