PHILADELPHIA – Texas A&M’s trek to the postseason championship meets includes a stop at historic Franklin Field for the 119th Penn Relay Carnival on the University of Penn campus this weekend. The Aggies head into this year’s meet with the women ranked No. 1 in the nation and the men ranked No. 2 in the latest USTFCCCA national team computer rankings and both squads are favored to win their share of relay events.
“That’s a big part of this weekend, with the recognition you get from winning an event,” noted Texas A&M head coach Pat Henry. “It’s a very prestigious meet. If you win here you’ve separated yourself from the rest of the field and the athletes know that.”
Action begins Thursday and continues through Saturday at the Penn Relays. Internet coverage of the meet and live results are available through www.thepennrelays.com with a three-day pass available for $15.95. Daily passes are available for $5.95 on Thursday and Friday with the price $7.95 on Saturday.
NBC will have live TV coverage on Saturday at noon (CDT) and then NBC Universal will offer coverage starting at 2 p.m. (CDT).
Entered in 10 relay events, A&M will have five relays apiece for the women and men. The Aggie women are entered in the 4x100, 4x200, 4x400, shuttle hurdles and distance medley. For the A&M men the relay events include the 4x100, 4x200, 4x400, sprint medley and distance medley.
“We want to do well here,” added Henry. “We’re going up and trying to run our absolute best in each event we compete in.”
In addition to relays, the Aggies will compete in the high jump, long jump and triple jump along with individual running entries in the 100 meters, 100/110 hurdles, 3000 meters, 3000 steeplechase, and 5000 meters.
“This isn’t the greatest place to run the 100 meters, because there are so many relay events jammed into each day and the 100 meters comes at an odd time in the schedule,” said Henry. “But we’ll run a couple of people in the 100 meters on men’s and women’s side. I’ll look to see whether we run Ameer Webb in the 100 this week.”
Another A&M group will compete in San Marcos at Texas State this weekend, primarily throwers on Friday and Saturday.
Following the Penn Relays the Aggies will compete in the SEC Outdoor Championships in Columbia, Missouri, from May 9-12.
“In the progression of the season with this meet, the thought process changes since it’s a big environment,” said Henry. “This type of meet helps us prepare for the big meets that are coming up in the postseason with the conference and national meets.”
The Aggie women have been very successful of late on the Penn Relays weekend, winning 11 Championship of America relay titles in the past five years. Over that time span Texas A&M has been victorious four times in the 4x100 (2009-2012), four times in the 4x200 (2008-2011), twice in the shuttle hurdles (2010, 2011) and once in the 4x400 (2012).
Over the past six years, running in 22 races among those four relay events, the Aggie women have accumulated 11 wins, four runner-up and four third-place finishes. So, in addition to winning half of those races, the A&M women have finished in the top three among 19 of those 22 races with three fifth-place efforts.
This year in the 4x100 the Aggie women will be seeking a fifth consecutive title. They head into the meet with an American leading 42.56 that won the Texas Relays with the fastest collegiate time ever recorded in the month of March.
Likewise, the A&M men have an American leading time of 38.64 that won the Texas Relays and are undefeated this season through six meets. The Aggies, who won consecutive Penn Relay titles in 2009 and 2010, will be among the favored teams this weekend.
In the 4x200 the Aggie women seek their fifth title in six years after enjoying a four-year run from 2008 to 2011, which included a collegiate record of 1:29.42 in the 2010 victory. Earlier this season a 1:32.62 for A&M, with a shaky final handoff, left them slightly trailing the Longhorns (1:32.37) at the Texas Relays.
A world-leading time of 1:20.78 as the Aggie men cruised to a Texas Relays 4x200 title will have them favored to upgrade a pair of runner-up finishes the past two years at Penn. A&M last won this event at Penn Relays in 2009 with a 1:20.32 that became the Aggie school record.
The 4x400 relays, which end the Penn Relays on Saturday evening, have been a mixed bag of emotions for the Aggies in recent years.
A 3:01.73 victory for the A&M men in 2011 is the treasured highlight of five top three finishes over the past six years. This season the Aggies have a season best of 3:02.76 that left them a step away from victory at the Texas Relays behind a 3:02.65 by Florida.
The past three men’s 4x400 winners at Penn include LSU (2012), Texas A&M (2011) and Mississippi State (2010). Contenders this year also include Pittsburgh, Penn State and Oregon.
In winning the first ever women’s 4x400 Penn Relays in A&M’s history last season, the Aggies relied upon a 51.9 anchor split from then freshman Olivia Ekponé as she held of the challenge from Oregon, 3:33.52 to 3:34.08.
A 3:28.27 for the A&M women this season placed them third at the Texas Relays behind Florida (3:27.61) and Texas (3:27.65). It was the second fastest time on the Aggie all-time list and the third best performance.
Predictions in the men’s distance medley relay have the Aggies earning the sleeper title with a potential lineup of Juan Blanco, Deon Lendore, Hector Hernandez and Henry Lelei. Texas A&M finished second in this event at the Texas Relays.
Princeton returns as the defending champion in the distance medley relay and recently won the event at the NCAA Indoor Championships in mid-March. Challengers for the title are abundant among programs that include Penn State, Indiana, Villanova (winners in 2009 and 2011), Stanford, Columbia and Oregon (winners in 2010).
Lelei will face some strong opposition on the 1600m anchor leg. In the past three weeks Lelei has recorded times of 8:32.94 for an A&M school record in the steeplechase at Oregon, won the 1500 in 3:44.78 at Arkansas and posted a 1:50.05 runner-up finish in the 800 at LSU.
Texas A&M’s recent success in the women’s shuttle hurdle relay produced a then American record of 52.96 as runner-up in 2008, followed by victories in 2010 and 2011. The winning time of 52.50 in 2010 established a collegiate and meet record for the Aggies.
For the 2013 race A&M will rely upon two multi-event athletes in Jena Hemann and Annie Kunz along with a jumper in LaQue Moen-Davis to join Donique’ Flemings, who was a member of the collegiate record in 2010 as well as the victory in 2011.
Hemann and Kunz will also high jump at the Penn Relays and will be the first Aggies in action at 9 a.m. (CDT) on Thursday. Moen-Davis follows in the Championship long jump at 11 a.m. while Jennifer Madu and Jordan Wilson contest the College long jump at 3 p.m.
Relay action on Thursday will have the Aggie women running prelims of the 4x100 at noon and the 4x400 at 5:20 p.m. The final of the women’s distance medley relay will start at 4:25 p.m.
Thursday evening distance races will see Stephen Curry and Isaac Spencer in the 3000m steeplechase at 6:30 p.m. followed by Sophie Blake in the women’s 3000 (7:30 p.m.). The trio of Grace Fletcher, Amanda Jenkins and Hillary Montgomery compete in the women’s 5000 (7:40 p.m.) In the men’s 5000 (8:20 p.m.), the A&M men running include Lelei, Ryan Miller and MacLean O’Donnell.