Henry Lelei defends South Central title as Aggies place third in team scoring

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FAYETTEVILLE – Texas A&M senior Henry Lelei defended his individual title at the NCAA South Central region meet with a convincing victory on Friday afternoon while the Aggie men and women each placed third in team scoring behind Arkansas and Texas on the Agri Park course.

“Henry Lelei just keeps rocking and rolling,” said Texas A&M assistant coach Wendel McRaven. “He dominated the race. We finished third as a team and that’s where we were ranked in the region coming in. I thought if we really ran well, then there was a possibility we could pick off Arkansas, but they ran solid on their home course.”

“It was the best team race of the year for the women. That was a really good way to start the day off. I was really pleased with the overall total effort on the women’s side. They did a really great job.”

Currently, Lelei is an individual qualifier for the NCAA Championships, which will be held next Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky. While the top two teams from each of the nine regions earn automatic entry into the national meet the remainder of the field is selected by committee.

The 13 at-large teams gaining entry into the NCAA Championships will be announced at noon Saturday.

“Now we have to wait until tomorrow to see if we receive an at-large bid,” noted McRaven. “I think we have a good chance of getting it.”

Lelei was challenged earlier in the race by David Rooney of McNeese State. Lelei pulled ahead of the field by a comfortable margin and cruised to victory in 29 minutes, 36.5 seconds over the 10,000-meter course. Rooney claimed second in 29:41.4 while Arkansas’ Kemoy Campbell placed third in 29:43.0.

“I wanted to do well to help the team as well as defend my title,” said Lelei, who ran 30:09.4 for his region title last fall. “I was comfortable running my first 10,000 this fall despite the wind we had. I enjoyed lowering my time from my victory last year.

“Right now I’m happy, but also a little disappointed that we have to wait and see if the team made it to nationals as an at-large team. My teammates have been pushing me in practice and working hard the whole season, so I would rather have them with me at nationals rather than go there by myself.”

No. 5 Texas won the men’s title over No. 10 Arkansas, 38 to 53, while the No. 12 Arkansas women defeated No. 22 Texas, 44-68. The Aggie men, nationally ranked No. 29, totaled 93 points to finish ahead of McNeese State (157), SFA (174), Rice (190) and Lamar (211). For the A&M women, a total of 140 points put them ahead of SMU (178), UTSA (187), TCU (189), Baylor (217), and LSU (230). There were 19 teams that finished each race.

James Hodges had another strong outing for the Aggies as he covered the course in 30:45.2 to place 13th as the second A&M finisher. Stephen Curry finished 18th as the third Aggie with a time of 31:10.1.

“James ran a tough race and put himself out there, but paid for it a little bit at the end,” said McRaven. “Stephen had a solid race and joined Henry and James in earning all-region honors.”

Rounding out the team score were Isaac Spencer (31:35.8) and Micah Dettmer (32:07.1), who placed 26th and 37th in the field. MacLean O’Donnell (74th - 33:13.4) and C.J. Brown (92nd - 33:53.5) rounded out the A&M squad.

Hillary Montgomery led the A&M women by placing 19th in a time of 21:37.7 over 6,000 meters. Gabby Salazar placed 24th as the next Aggie to finish, running a time of 21:57.7. They both earned all-region honors for placing among the top 25 runners.

“I’m just so excited, since I think the team finally ran up to its full potential,” stated Montgomery. “It was good to see us work together and prove that we can do well in a meet like this. It was challenging today with the hilly course and the wind.

“We’re really excited for next year. We’ve already decided we need to finish higher than third at the region meet and make nationals.”

Shawn Dalglish (22:03.8) and Grace Fletcher (22:04.8) crossed the finish line a second apart in 30th and 31st place. Then Tara Upshaw (22:15.5) wrapped up the team score in 36th place. Sophie Blake (53rd – 22:46.0) and Amanda Jenkins (55th – 22:52.5) rounded out the squad.

NCAA South Central Region, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Team Scores
Men: 1. Texas 38; 2. Arkansas 53; 3. Texas A&M 93; 4. McNeese State 157; 5. Stephen F. Austin 174; 6. Rice 190; 7. Lamar 211; 8. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 228; 9. Central Arkansas 253; 10. Arkansas-Little Rock 260; 11. Texas-Arlington 265; 12. UTSA 273; 13. North Texas 288; 14. Baylor 307; 15. Houston 328; 16. Sam Houston 406; 17. UL-Lafayette 466; 18. LSU 492; 19. Texas-Pan American 543.

Individual: 1. Henry Lelei, TAMU, 29:36.5; 2. David Rooney, McN, 29:41.4; 3. Kemoy Campbell, Ark, 29:43.0; 4. Ryan Dohner, Tx, 30:00.8; 5. Solomon Haile, Ark, 30:07.5; 6. Craig Lutz, Tx, 30:13.2; 7. Rory Tunningley, Tx, 30:16.2; 8. Eric Fernandez, Ark, 30:19.8; 9. Kyle Merber, Tx, 30:23.8; 10. Matt Johnsen, Lam, 30:26.5; … (A&M) 13. James Hodges 30:45.2; 18. Stephen Curry 31:10.1; 26. Isaac Spencer 31:35.8; 37. Micah Dettmer 32:07.1; 74. MacLean O’Donnell 33:13.4; 92. C.J. Brown 33:53.5.

Team Scores
Women: 1. Arkansas 44; 2. Texas 68; 3. Texas A&M 140; 4. SMU 178; 5. UTSA 187; 6. TCU 189; 7. Baylor 217; 8. LSU 230; 9. Arkansas State 233; 10. Stephen F. Austin 255; 11. Rice 265; 12. Tulane 322; 13. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 338; 14. Texas-Pan American 372; 15. Lamar 375; 16. Central Arkansas 381; 17. North Texas 405; 18. McNeese State 419; 19. Houston Baptist 490.

Individuals: 1. Marielle Hall, Tx, 20:30.7; 2. Sara Sutherland, Tx, 20:35.3; 3. Semehar Tesfaye, Ark, 20:54.4; 4. Grace Heymsfield, Ark, 20:55.0; 5. Agnes Kemboi, TCU, 21:07.0; 6. Lauren Smith, SFA, 21:08.2; 7. Kristina Aubert, ArkSt, 21:11.2; 8. Mary Alenbratt, SMU, 21:14.0; 9. Judith Chumba, UT-PA, 21:15.5; 10. Diane Robison, Ark, 21:15.7 … (A&M) 19. Hillary Montgomery, 21:37.7; 24. Gabby Salazar, 21:51.7; 30. Shawn Dalglish 22:03.8; 31. Grace Fletcher 22:04.8; 36. Tara Upshaw 22:15.5; 53. Sophie Blake 22:46.0; 55. Amanda Jenkins, 22:52.5.

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