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Chip Souza | | March 15, 2015

Beasts of the backyard

Sandi Moore 3-15 Morris cleared 15-1 on her second attempt.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Sandi Morris was a part of history on Saturday, but not in the manner she expected.

The Arkansas pole vaulter earned 10 points and played a key role in helping the Razorbacks to the NCAA national championship by winning the women’s pole vault.

It wasn’t surprising that Morris won the championship. She was among the favorites in the event after winning the Southeastern Conference championship with a personal-best 15 feet, 3.50 inches.

What was surprising is that fellow vaulter No. 1 Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin wasn’t there pushing her for the title after Payne failed to make opening height. The two have had an epic back-and-forth battle during the entire indoor season, setting several records along the way.

“It was a little bit of an unexpected turn,” Morris said of Payne’s early exit. “Demi didn’t do as well as she was supposed to. I really do feel for her because I’ve been there.”

Morris, who transferred to Arkansas from North Carolina last season, wowed the home crowd on Saturday when she raced down the runway, planted her vaulting pole and soared over the bar at 15-1 on her second attempt to defeat Megan Clark of Duke. Morris cleared five consecutive jumps before her first miss at 15-1. She easily cleared the height on her second try. Morris later attempted three times at 15-5, but could not clear the height.

“It feels really great to be kind of disappointed with 15-1,” she said. “So it’s kind of funny. But this has been the best season of my life. And I’m ready for a big outdoors season.”

Arkansas’ win was historic in that it’s the first national championship in a women’s sport, and it came at home at the Randal Tyson Track Center in front of a partisan crowd.

Razorbacks coach Lance Harter said his team performed like he hoped it would.

“Every event we entered in, we scored,” Harter said. “So it was very much a team commitment. It just kind of came together, almost scripted.”

Harter, who has been the women’s track coach at Arkansas for 25 years, poked a little fun at himself, referencing former Arkansas men’s coach John McDonnell, who won more than 40 NCAA titles to Harter’s none until Saturday night.

“When I’m asked to speak a lot, I say, ‘A lot of you are surprised that I’m tan, because I’m always in the shadow of John McDonnell,’ ” Harter said. “He’s always said, ‘Hey, you guys are going to knock on the door.’ We just kept knocking on the door and knocking on the door, and we were able to win some SEC championships, which always kind of springs you into the dance.”

While Morris and her teammates celebrated a long awaited championship, Payne walked off the track obviously disappointed with her first no height of the indoor season at the biggest meet of the year.

“I know, dang it,” Payne said. “But I’m not going to hang my head low on this. I’ve had an awesome indoors season. I’m just going to attack the outdoors season because I know I have a lot more in the tank.”

Morris said consistency was the key to her win Saturday.

“Consistency means big bars, so I went out there and made bars on my first attempts,” she said. “To be consistent it means a lot.”

Morris said being part of a championship team made winning the individual title even more special.

“All the girls on this team, we work so hard and lay it all out there on the line every day,” she said. “It’s awesome to be making history here at Arkansas.”

As for Payne, whose father Bill Payne was a 19-foot pole vaulter, she will head back to East Texas to focus on the upcoming outdoors season, where she has this season and one more outdoors season of eligibility left. This was her final indoors season.

“It was just one of those days,” Payne said. “I felt great, but I just felt like I was’t quite connecting with the pole. On the last attempt I went up cold. I felt like with that weird last attempt that you don’t really know what’s going to happen. I got myself too pumped up and ran myself under. It happens, but it just sucked.”

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