FAYETTEVILLE, AR -- A group of 13 Aggies will conclude the indoor track and field season this weekend as they compete in the NCAA Indoor Championships, hosted by the University of Arkansas on March 14-15.
“We are taking enough people to be successful,” Texas A&M head coach Pat Henry said. “If everybody on each side does what they are capable of doing, I think both teams have the opportunity to be successful.
“We qualified a good group of people to this indoor championship, with a little bit of experience as well as some new people as well. I feel good about the youth and experience we have in the meet.”
With six athletes qualified for six events in the national meet, the No. 5 ranked Texas A&M women will likely have the arsenal to produce its highest finish ever in school history this weekend at the Randal Tyson Center.
Placing 13th with 17 points in the 2007 NCAA Indoor meet established the benchmark for the best performance by an Aggie women’s squad at an indoor national championship. The A&M squad is predicted to finish in the top five, according to a form chart by Track & Field News, who predicts a 40-point output for the Aggies.
The group of A&M women who qualified for the meet includes Simone Facey (60, 200, 4x4), Porscha Lucas (60, 200), Jessica Beard (400, 4x4), Jennifer Williams (60 hurdles, 4x4), Ashika Charan (triple jump), Sandy Wooten (4x4) and Allison George (4x4 alternate).
A crew of seven Aggies will contest five events in the men’s field, focusing on the sprint and jump areas. Leading the No. 23 ranked Texas A&M men will be a 4 x 400 relay squad that ranks third in the nation with a qualifying time of 3:06.68.
The foursome on the relay includes Justin Oliver, Chris Dykes, Nick Robinson and A.C. Robinson. Two members of the relay, Oliver and A.C. Robinson, were on the Aggie silver-medal 4x4 relay at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last summer.
Joining the relay in the national meet are Gerald Phiri (60), Dykes (200), Julian Reid (long jump, triple jump), Zuheir Sharif (triple jump) and Morquise Cleveland (4 x 400 alternate).
Lucas will enter the women’s NCAA meet as the world leader in the 200 meters with her time of 22.86 seconds from winning the Big 12 Championship. Track & Field News has tabbed Lucas as the favorite for NCAA gold this weekend in an early form chart on the meet with Facey selected as the runner-up. The Aggie duo recently combined for a 1-2 finish at the Big 12 meet.
In addition to leading the world list at 200 meters for the 2008 season, Lucas moved to No. 8 on the American collegiate list for the event and is No. 14 on the U.S. all-time list.
Also favored to win her event is freshman Jessica Beard, who has run a best of 52.61 and ranks fifth on the national collegiate list. Her progression through the season has been steady, running marks of 52.87 (Feb. 2, oversized track 3rd), 53.02 (Feb. 9, 1st), and capping it with a 52.61 for the Big 12 title.
Beard currently tops the World Junior indoor list for the 400 and is sixth on the 200 list with a best of 23.75 on a 200m track. Beard’s mark of 23.68 is the top junior time on an oversized track this season.
“What’s on paper is of little consequence once you get to the championship meet,” noted Henry. “Things have to happen and athletes have to be ready to compete.
“I’ve been here enough to know that it’s great to have a leading performance going in. We’ve talked to our team about trying to copy that kind performance, the performance that got you here. Let’s try to repeat that type of performance and the environment may dictate that you do a little bit better.”
Recently the men’s relay squad placed second at the Big 12 Championships with a time of 3:08.34. Then during a NCAA qualifying meet in Ames, Iowa, the quartet blistered a conference-leading time of 3:06.68 on the oversized track at Iowa State.
“One thing about the mile relay I’m extremely pleased with is how we rebounded from losing our opening leg during the season,” Henry stated.
“Bryant McCombs, an All-American on our NCAA runner-up relay from last season, went down with an injury during practice a month ago. We had somebody in Nick Robinson who was able to push himself and he has done a very good job for our relay to run that fast without McCombs.”
Facey, who earned three All-America honors during the NCAA Indoor Championships last season, will contest the 60, 200 and 4 x 400 this weekend. Last year Facey placed fifth in the 200, seventh in the 60 and was part of the silver-medal effort A&M produced in the 4 x 400 relay.
This indoor season has seen Facey set indoor career best marks in the 60 and 200 with times of 7.23 seconds and 22.96, as she was the runner-up in both events during the Big 12 Championships.
After earning another set of three All-America honors at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Facey quickly became one of the most decorated females in A&M history with a total of six All-America honors in one season.
If Facey achieves another set of three All-America honors this weekend she will surpass the women’s top total of eight held by Adrien Sawyer as well as the total of eight earned on the men’s side by three Aggies – Howard Davis, Stanley Kerr and Randy Matson. In the process she would also pass Clora Williams (7) and Andre Cason (7).
“Simone Facey has had some great experiences in the NCAA meet, she is one of our seniors in this group,” said Henry. “She has a lot of experience competing in meets on a very high level.”
Dykes, a junior, will also contest the men’s 200 meters, where he earned All-America honors last season with a third-place finish at the NCAA Indoor meet. Last season Dykes recorded a career best time of 20.67 seconds in placing third. This season he has run 20.97 twice, once on a 200-meter track and once on an oversized venue.
Freshman Gerald Phiri qualified for the 60-meter field with a career best mark of 6.64, which also set the Texas A&M school record. He first tied the school record of 6.67 at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in New York City and then lowered the standard to 6.64 while winning the Husky Classic in Seattle the following weekend.
During the Big 12 Championships Phiri raced to a silver medal with a clocking of 6.65 as he led a scoring trio of Aggies, who accumulated 12 points in the final.
The women’s relay unit is tabbed for second place behind LSU in the national meet. The Aggies, who were runner-up in 2007, held the collegiate leading mark for a majority of the indoor season with a time of 3:34.61 they set in defeating South Carolina (3:35.32) at the McCravy Memorial in Kentucky. A&M’s time is currently third on the NCAA list.
LSU took over the collegiate lead when they won the SEC title with a 3:31.89 while South Carolina was second in 3:33.34. Texas A&M bettered LSU early in the season, posting a 3:35.32 to the Tigers’ 3:37.19 at the Razorback Invitational.
During the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in New York City, both LSU (3:34.74) and South Carolina (3:35.53) finished ahead of the Aggies (3:39.40). It was the only setback the A&M women have had in the 4 x 400 this season as the main unit has claimed four titles this season – the Razorback Invitational, Kentucky’s McCravy Memorial, Washington’s Husky Classic and the Big 12 Championship.
Jennifer Williams will represent the Aggies in the 60 hurdles, where she ranks 15th with a time of 8.25 seconds. Williams recorded the time during the semifinals of the Big 12 meet and it marked the second time she has lowered her career best in the event this season. She opened the year with a personal best of 8.30 at the Razorback Invitational and then lowered it to 8.26 at the Husky Classic in Seattle. In the Big 12 final Williams posted an 8.31 for runner-up honors.
In the jumping events sophomore Zuheir Sharif earned a return visit to the NCAA Indoor Championships while freshman Julian Reid qualified for both the long and triple jump. Also competing in both jumping events on the women’s side is sophomore Ashika Charan.
Sharif placed ninth last season indoors and then improved to fifth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. His outdoor season continued with a U.S. Junior title and a silver-medal performance at the Pan Am Junior Championships held in Brazil. Sharif’s efforts led to a No. 10 ranking in the U.S. triple jump by Track & Fields News.
An indoor career best of 52-3 ¼ (15.93) was established by Sharif this indoor season as he placed third in New York. He recently finished fifth at the Big 12 Championships with a mark of 50-10 ¼ (15.50).
Reid enjoyed a winning performance in the long jump during the Big 12 meet and added a fourth-place finish in the triple jump to tie for high-point honors as he scored 14 points. A career best indoor mark of 25-5 ½ (7.76) claimed the Big 12 long jump for Reid while he reached a distance of 51-6 ½ (15.71) in the triple jump.
Earlier in the season Reid registered a personal best of 51-9 ¼ (15.78) in placing fourth at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in New York.
Charan is in the triple jump field with her personal best mark of 43-6 ½ (13.27) she set in Arkansas when she won the Razorback Invitational in January. Charan will also contest the long jump, where her best is 20-6 ½ (6.15).
In addition to her early season victory in the triple jump, Charan added a third-place effort at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in New York City and earned a silver medal at the Big 12 Championships.