LINCOLN, NE -- Texas A&M will head into the Big 12 Indoor Championships this weekend as the defending champions on the women’s side while the men seek to improve on a ninth-place finish from the 2007 season. Both squads could be in the hunt for team titles as the conference meet is hosted by the University of Nebraska on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 29-March 1, in the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
“This is a great time of the year,” A&M head coach Pat Henry said. “The challenge is to see if we can all get it done on the same day on both sides, male and female. If we do I think we can be competitive. I think we can compete with anybody in the meet. It will be a lot of fun to see what happens this weekend.”
The Aggie women will likely see a challenge from Nebraska and Texas while the Aggie men could be among a five-team tussle for the top position with Nebraska and Texas, who tied for the Big 12 title in 2007, along with Oklahoma, last year’s outdoor champion, and Texas Tech.
“Our sport is one where if you get one or two athletes hurt then you have a serious situation that can turn your whole team,” Henry noted. “We’re pretty healthy going in and that’s good for us this year. Last year we weren’t at that point. So, this is a good competition for us from that standpoint. Right now we just have to line up and get it done.”
In addition to the women’s 4 x 400 relay, there will be three A&M individuals who will be defending titles at the Big 12 Championships – Simone Facey (200 meters), Yasmine Regis (triple jump) and Zuheir Sharif (triple jump). Regis will enter the Big 12 meet as a two-time defending champion. She won last year’s title with a mark of 43-6 ½ (13.27) and claimed the title in 2006 with a 42-6 ¼ (12.96) effort.
The Aggies also have a crew of silver medalists returning from the 2007 conference meet – Facey (60), Porscha Lucas (200), Jennifer Williams (60 hurdles), Ashika Charan (long jump), as well as the men’s 4 x 400 relay. Bronze medalists returning include Chris Dykes (200) and the men’s distance medley relay.
“Part of our strength last year was that we were youthful,” Henry stated. “We did have a lot of young people in that group and it continues this year. The seniors we do have are impact people and we hope that is the case every year.
“On the women’s side we are in a little bit different situation than we were last year. The challenge as coaches and athletes is to perform at the level you know you’re capable of performing at. If we do that and still get beat, then you can walk out of the building feeling good about what you did. But if we perform like we are capable, I think we will walk out of the building feeling real good about what we accomplish.”
The sprint and jump event areas continue to be a strong area of point production for the A&M women. Last season the Aggies put a gap on the field with 84 points from sprints, hurdles and relays along with 32 more points in jumping events.
Facey, a six-time All-American last season, leads the sprint group. She lowered her school record in the 60 meters this season with a 7.28 clocking and is the defending Big 12 champion in the 200. Lucas, meanwhile, has already produced a NCAA automatic qualifier this season with her best of 23.16 in the 200.
Newcomer Jessica Beard has led the conference list in the 400 for a majority of the indoor season. She recorded a 52.87 on an oversized track and also sports a 53.02 on a 200-meter banked track. In the hurdles, Jennifer Williams took over the Big 12 lead recently when she recorded a personal best of 8.26 during the Husky Classic in Seattle.
Ashika Charan, a double scorer in the long and triple jump at both Big 12 meets last season, led both events on the conference list for a couple weeks this indoor season. She currently tops the long jump list with a 20-6 ¼ (6.25) and is second on the triple jump list with a 43-6 ½ (13.27).
While Texas A&M features a headline entry or two in each of those events, there is also a quality of depth in each. Returning scorers in the 60 and 200 include Facey (60-2nd, 200-1st), Lucas (60-4th, 200-2nd), Khrystal Carter (60-6th, 200-5th), and Elizabeth Adeoti (60-7th, 200-7th). Wooten returns in the 400 where she placed fourth last season while Charan and Ashley McCarty finished fifth and eighth, respectively, in the triple jump in 2007.
A trio of newcomers, which include Gabby Mayo (sprints, hurdles), Allison George (sprints) and Tiffany Peters (jumps), provide additional scoring depth for the Aggies. Two seniors, who scored as sophomores in 2006, seek to produce points in the hurdles. Lindsey Adams finished fourth two years ago while Whitney Holmes placed seventh.
Christina Munoz, a NCAA qualifier in cross country, will contest both the 3,000 and 5,000 meters during the conference meet this weekend.
The same event areas on the men’s side received added depth as well. Behind the scoring potential of Dykes and Zuheir, the Aggies welcomed Gerald Phiri and Dominique Stafford in the sprints along with Julian Reid, Tyron Stewart and Melvin Echard in the jumps.
During the past two weeks of competition for A&M, Phiri tied the school record of 6.67 in the 60 meters at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in New York City and then lowered the mark to 6.64 with a winning effort at the Husky Classic in Seattle. He shares the conference lead with Oklahoma’s Marcus Pugh.
Reid and Stewart both produced triple jump marks over 51 feet, giving the Aggie a trio of jumpers with career bests past that distance. Reid also generated a mark of 25-4 in the long jump to share the Big 12 lead. Echard, meanwhile, also showed improvement with his indoor best of 48-8 ¾ while also lowering his 60-meter hurdle time to 8.14 seconds.
Another event leader for the Aggies going into the Big 12 Championships is Javier Olivas in the shot put. His mark of 57-11 ¾ has led the conference list for a majority of the indoor season. Continued improvement in the event from Nick Cook, who established a personal best of 54-2 ½ in his last meet, could assist A&M ‘s scoring potential.
Justin Oliver and A.C. Robinson both scored in the 400 for the Aggies last season as they placed fourth and fifth, respectively. Robinson will make his debut over the 600-yard distance after clocking 1:02.92 in the 500 meters during the Collegiate Invitational in New York City. Missing from action for A&M will be Bryant McCombs, who placed eighth in the 400 at both Big 12 meets last year, due to an injured Achilles tendon during practice a couple weeks ago.
Distance events will have Nick Toohey, the Aggie indoor record holder in the 800, returning from a pair of eighth-place efforts at each conference meet in 2007. Sporting a 2008 season best of 1:51.05, Toohey ran 1:50.09 to set the A&M record last season.
Other distances run in the conference meet will feature a range of Aggie talent with Kevin ONdrasek (1,000 meters), Matt Ross (mile), Kevin McNab (3,000) and Mitch Bible (5,000).