DES MOINES, Iowa - Holders of the past three NCAA Outdoor track and field championships for both the men and women, the Texas A&M Aggies are familiar with the pressure and determination needed in defending team titles on the national stage. The Aggies third national championship title defense will take place at Drake Stadium from Wednesday to Saturday, June 6-9.
Also familiar to the rigors of winning national team championships is head coach Pat Henry, who has collected a total of 33 NCAA Championships on the Division I level and is the only coach to orchestrate dual NCAA Outdoor victories. It’s a feat Henry has accomplished five times over his collegiate coaching career, twice with LSU (1989-1990) and three times with the Aggies (2009-2011).
“When we started at this program eight years ago we talked about our philosophy and what we were going to try to do,” stated Henry. “The idea was to have a team that is competitive every year. You may not win it every year, but if you’re competitive and get to the meet healthy then you have a shot.
“This NCAA meet is a little roll of the dice every once in a while, but there are some things that are pretty clean and cut when people step up and perform.”
Texas A&M enters the NCAA Championship weekend with its men’s program ranked No. 1 and the women’s team ranked No. 4. The Aggies will compete in a collection of 18 events, nine apiece for the men and women. The men have 14 athletes with 13 entries while the women have 10 athletes with 12 entries.
“This group has done a real good job,” said Henry. “They continue to mature as the season goes along. They continue to step up to the plate and I hope we have one more opportunity here in a few days to really show what they are capable of doing.”
Common events for A&M men and women include the 100 (4 entries), 200 (4), 400 (3), 100/110 hurdles (2), 4 x 100 (2), 4 x 400 (2) and the javelin (4). The Aggie men are also entered in the steeplechase and discus while the women have a distance runner in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.
“With the javelin people we have going as well as a discus thrower, a steeplechaser and a distance runner in the 5k and 10k, there is a little different element to this group that allows for a possibility of a little more help as we try to win this championship,” noted Henry.
Texas A&M totaled 13 victories during the Big 12 Outdoor meet, eight from the men and five for the women. In addition the Aggies had nine more medalists, four silver and five bronze. They all advanced through the NCAA West preliminary rounds in Austin, forming a cohesive unit prepared for the NCAA Championship weekend at Drake Stadium.
Fitness levels for a pair of Aggie sprinters have reached normal stages as the outdoor season reaches the month of June. Ameer Webb, the NCAA Indoor 200 champion, and Kamaria Brown, the NCAA Indoor 200 bronze medalist, are both in position to contribute points to A&M’s title defenses.
Webb rocketed to a pair of wind-aided times at the NCAA West preliminary, running 20.20 in the first round and 20.29 in the quarterfinals. Brown returned to the A&M women’s 4 x 400 as she split 53.6 and the Aggies ran their fastest time of the season, 3:31.77, and the seventh fastest ever at A&M.
“Kamaria Brown was one of the best 200-meter runners in the country during the indoor season,” said Henry. “Then she hurt herself very early into the outdoor season and just hasn’t been able to bounce back.
“Now she has looked pretty good running a leg of the 4 x 400 relay in Austin at the NCAA West meet. She was an asset this weekend as we ran our fastest time of the season in the 4 x 4. I think with another couple of races Kamaria is going to be even more help to this team.”
A pair of NCAA finalist a year ago, Prezel Hardy, Jr. and Wayne Davis II, have developed into Big 12 champions this season. Hardy swept the conference 100 and 200 meters with career best times of 10.03w and 20.33 while Davis equaled the school record of 13.37 to claim the 110 hurdles.
On the women’s side Ashley Collier and Donique’ Flemings, who were part of the Aggie 4x1 and 4x4 relays at the national meet a year ago, each blossomed into Big 12 individual winners this spring. Collier won the 100 meters in a personal best of 11.01 and finished second in the 200 with a career best of 22.89. Flemings rolled to a windy best of 12.87 for her conference victory in the 100 hurdles.
NCAA experience abounds in sprinter Dominique Duncan, who has been a member of the past three national championship teams. She ran on a pair of winning 4 x 100 squads, including the collegiate record 42.36 victory in 2009, and placed fifth in the 200 during the 2010 meet when the Aggies racked up 22 points by also taking first and second in that race.
Laura Asimakis has qualified for the NCAA Championships in the javelin for a fourth time, and seeks to improve on the pair of 12th place finishes she had in 2009 and 2011. Sam Humphreys, who holds the school record in the javelin at 259-1 (78.98), makes his third appearance in the men’s NCAA javelin field. He placed fifth as a freshman and earned a bronze medal last year.
A breakthrough season has placed Natosha Rogers in the NCAA meet for both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Her debut race in the 10k earned a Big 12 title and then she ran 30 seconds faster to PR and place second in the NCAA West race. Rogers broke the school record in the 5,000 and also won the conference title.
Newcomers to the Aggie program have made their impact as well. Deon Lendore, a freshman from Trinidad & Tobago, won the Big 12 400 title, indoors and outdoors, and continues to improve with each race. Likewise for junior Kanika Beckles of Grenada, who placed second in the Big 12 400 and has knocked nearly a couple of seconds off her previous personal best.
Henry Lelei, a junior from Kenya, broke the school record in the 5,000 meters (15:50.03), previously held by legendary Arturo Barrios, during his first outdoor race for A&M. Then Lelei broke the Aggie steeplechase record twice, running 8:45.80 in Eugene and then producing an 8:38.90 to win the Big 12 title.
In the throwing events a pair of freshmen in Dalton Rowan and Devin Bogert capitalized on late season career best efforts to advance to the NCAA Championship as well as place their names on the U.S. Junior all-time list. Bogert hit a mark of 236-1 (71.97) in the javelin, which is No. 6 on the U.S. Junior list, while Rowan reached a distance of 192-4 (58.62) in the discus, No. 9 on the U.S. Junior list.
While Rowan and Bogert get a taste of the national meet in their first collegiate season, senior Jon Gomez needed a career best throw of 224-7 (68.45) on his last javelin attempt to place 10th in the NCAA West and advance to NCAA Championship weekend.
A relay alternate as a freshman during the NCAA meet a year ago, Michael Bryan qualified in the 100 and as part of the 4 x 100 this season. A wind-aided 10.29 advanced Bryan to Des Moines after a windy 10.21 placed him fifth in the Big 12 final. Bryan has run the third leg of the 4 x 100 in each race for the Aggies this spring.
“Mike was an alternate for us in the 4 x 100 relay during last year’s NCAA meet,” said Henry. “This time he has the opportunity to contribute in both an individual race and on the 4 x 100 relay. He will need a great race during the NCAA 100 semifinal, but he could advance to the final.
“That holds true for anyone we have competing in Des Moines. If you aren’t ready to line up when it’s time for you to compete then you’re not going to be a person that scores. You better be ready to line it up when they first open the door.”