College Station – A 4 x 400 relay title on the evening’s final event of the NCAA Indoor Championships catapulted the Texas A&M women into second place Saturday in Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium.
With 37 points the Aggie women only trailed the 42 points scored by Tennessee. It marks the best finish ever by Texas A&M women at the NCAA Indoor meet, topping the seventh place they achieved last year indoors and the third-place effort they had during the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2008.
The Aggie women, ranked No. 1 each week of the indoor season, opened Gilliam in January with a 83-69 dual meet win over then No. 4 Tennessee.
“As you can see when you look up there, one, two, three and four points is huge when it gets right down there to the end,” Texas A&M head coach Pat Henry said. “And as I told our ladies, we got beat by five points and everyone knew where maybe they could have done just a little more.
“But we ran the fastest mile relay we’ve run this season, our 200 meter people ran their fastest times of the year, Jessica ran her fastest indoor quarter ever. We had a lot of PRs in this meet.”
The lively crowd in Gilliam, which squeezed in 4,917 fans on Saturday, had another entertaining day of track and field from various events. The two-day attendance mark reached a tally of 9,232.
The Oregon men, fueled by Galen Rupp, powered its way to the men’s team title with 54 points, with Florida (36), Florida State (32), LSU (29) rounding out the top four. A three-way tie for fifth followed with Baylor, Nebraska and Arizona State each scoring 25 points.
Texas A&M men finished ninth with 23 points as Texas placed 10th with 22.5 points. It marks the best NCAA Indoor effort for the Aggie men since 1990 and improved on their tie for 10th last season.
“We are continuing to get just a little better,” Henry added. “This is really only our fourth recruiting class, so we are pleased with the efforts we have made.
“We are relatively young. I think that we have the potential to be in the top five (on the men’s side), but we didn’t get it done tonight.”
Jessica Beard played a big role in the Aggie relay victory, splitting 51.25 seconds on the anchor leg as the crew of Allison George (53.10), Sandy Wooten (54.10), Porscha Lucas (53.98) put her in great position. They bettered runner-up Arizona State by 1.78 seconds – a huge gap of time in this relay.
Running in section two of a four-section final, A&M posted a time to chase for the rest of the field. In fact, the two other teams in that section – Arizona State (3:34.30) and Penn State (3:34.64) – ended up second and third.
After a pair of NCAA silver-medal performances in the relay the Aggies claimed gold in the event – a first for the program indoors. In fact it was the first NCAA title in any event for the A&M at the NCAA Indoor meet.
“I think it meant so much because last year we got second and the year before they got second,” Beard noted. “I think it is a major accomplishment and just shows that the hard work we put in paid off. It’s about who shows up today. Plus that win secured second place for us overall.”
Earlier in the evening Beard had to chase a time in the 400 as she ran in the second of a two-section final. Hampton’s Francena McCorory posted a 51.55 in the first section. Spurred on by a vocal crowd Beard attempted to run down the mark in her section. Beard established an early lead and her only competitor was the clock.
Opening with a 24.00 Beard was ahead of the 24.32 McCorory opened with. Then at 300 Beard was at 37 seconds before closing to a school record time of 51.77, bettering her previous mark of 52.35 set this season. Beard bettered her section by nearly a full second as Western Kentucky’s Valerie Brown ran 52.76.
“Winning is always something important, but a lot of people set personal bests and this will really help to prepare us for outdoors,” Beard said. “I think everyone is really happy with the way things worked out.”
Lucas’ relay carry was her second effort of the day and third final of the meet. In addition to her runner-up effort in the 200 on Friday she placed eighth in the 60 meters with a 7.36 and had a key leg on the relay.
“I am happy with everyone’s efforts today,” Lucas said. “This is our highest finish and we still have room for improvement. They (Tennessee) just got points where we couldn’t get points. This meet is so close in points that you can win by one or two points.
“I know Jessica. She is a beast and she is going to do what she can. I ran the fastest leg that I have run this season and I’m just excited about everyone’s effort today.”
Lucas led the A&M crew in scoring with 13.5 points in the meet while Beard amassed 12.5 points. The tandem combined for 26 of the Aggies 37 points.
Leading the men’s effort on Saturday was Zuheir Sharif, who was involved in an epic triple jump battle with a pair of freshmen. Christian Taylor of Florida set an American junior record with his winning distance of 55-8.5 while Oklahoma frosh Will Claye, who left high school early and joined the Sooners in January, recorded the third best American junior mark with a 55-1.5.
Sharif, the collegiate leader in the event heading into the NCAA meet, jumped 53-6.25 for bronze. It’s the third consecutive year for him to All-America honors in the event. Julian Reid, who was fourth in the long jump, added a sixth-place effort in the triple jump with his 52-11 mark.
“Overall I am very proud,” Zuheir said. “I am always proud. When you make it to this high of level, everyone really steps up. Everybody should be on the same page and I am really happy to be a part of this squad.”
Yasmine Regis place fourth in the women’s triple jump with a leap of 44-0.5, the second best effort ever at A&M indoors. The only mark better is the school record Regis set this season of 44-4.25.
The men’s foursome of Tran Howell, Bryan Miller, Kyle Dykhuizen and Justin Oliver clocked 3:08.46 for fifth place in the men’s 4 x 400 relay. Oliver also finished seventh in the 400 with a 466.1 and Gerald Phiri placed sixth in the 60 with a 6.63.