COLLEGE STATION – In the open evening of the Texas A&M Mondo Challenge, featuring a conference challenge between the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12, the Aggie women came within four seconds of breaking the school record in the distance medley relay.
Running with a foursome of Ashley Chamberlain, LaKeidra Stewart, Aliese Hyde and Sophie Blake, the A&M crew posted a winning time of 11:33.93 to finish ahead of SEC partner Tennessee, who placed second with a time of 11:34.95. Texas Tech ran 12:097.69 for third.
The A&M men finished second in the distance medley relay to Texas Tech, 9:41.55 to 9:58.15, as the Red Raiders had NCAA cross country champion Kennedy Kithuka anchor in 4:01.25, with Tennessee in third with a 10:07.09.
Another women’s distance final had the Aggies enjoying a 1-2 finish with Gabby Salazar winning in 17:27.37 while Tara Upshaw placed second in 17:42.07.
Action in the Texas A&M Mondo Challenge continues Saturday with finals starting at 2 p.m. The meet is being scored between the three conferences with the Aggies and Tennessee representing the SEC, TCU and Texas Tech are the Big 12 combo while Arizona State and USC represent the Pac-12.
The time for the Aggie women is the second fastest in school history, trailing the A&M record of 11:29.89 set in 2012. It’s also the fifth fastest time recorded this collegiate season heading into this weekend’s action.
“I wasn’t really expecting a time like that going into the race, because it’s still early in the season,” said Blake. “When I got the stick I felt that Aliese handed it to me in a really good position. I just spent the entire leg trying to reel her in. That led me to a really fast time and when I saw the clock I was surprised, but really happy.”
Chamberlain opened the Aggie effort with a 3:38.09 split on the first leg of 1200m and was followed by a 54.01 split from Stewart on the 400m leg. Tennessee held a 4:30.59 to 4:32.10 edge going into the third leg.
“I was confident going into the race and just tried to listen to coach,” said Chamberlain. “I could hear my teammates cheering for me and the race went well.”
Stewart noted: “It was very humbling, and I’m just honored to get the opportunity and step on the track to represent Texas A&M. Knowing I just had one race tonight, I went out there to give it my all.”
Hyde, who was part of the school record effort a year ago, ran the 800m leg in 2:11.44 while Tennessee countered with a 2:09.06 from Kianna Ruff. Going into the final leg the Volunteers held the advantage, 6:39.65 to 6:43.54.
“LaKeidra made up a lot of ground in the 400 leg,” said Hyde. “It helped having Coach Francique each lap telling me what I needed to do. It was a really nice, smooth race.”
Trailing Tennessee by four seconds going into the final leg, which covers 1600m, Blake made steady progress on the Volunteer’s Hannah Davidson. With a couple of laps remaining, Blake was in a couple of strides of Davidson and passed her with a lap remaining.
“When I got the stick I was more confident than I’ve been in past relay races,” noted Blake. “I knew if I could run low 4:50s on my leg I could probably chase her down, or compete with anyone. The last 600 definitely hurt, and I was a little hesitant to pass her going into the last lap.
“As soon as I made that move, though, I could hear the crowd get so loud. I hadn’t heard that during the entire race, so it really pumped me up and gave me an extra boost of energy.”
Blake split 4:50.38 to secure the victory by a second over Tennessee, with Davidson clocking 4:55.30 on the anchor leg.
Hyde added: “It was so exciting watching Sophie on the anchor leg. She kept getting a little closer each lap. In the last 50 meters the Tennessee runner started speeding up and we started yelling ‘go, Sophie, go’. The officials had to tell us not to get any closer. It was a lot of fun to get the win and run that fast.”
Running for the Aggie men’s distance medley relay were James Bonn (3:01.39), Bralon Taplin (46.48), Nick Rollo (1:54.85) and Colin Slattery (4:15.42). This served as the debut race for Taplin, who joined the Aggies this month.
Rollo managed to pull even with Texas Tech’s Nick Rivera during the third leg of the race, which covers 800m. With a lap remaining, though, Rivera pulled away from Rollo and gave Kithuka a two and a half second lead over the Aggies.