June 12, 2010

-- SIDEBAR: From Olympic Rings To NCAA Gold

 

By Doug Binder
Special to NCAA.com


EUGENE, Ore. - Legendary college track coach Pat Henry and his Texas A&M Aggies swept the men's and women's team titles for the second year in a row on Saturday at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field.

Henry now has 19 outdoor team titles and his latest two were masterfully executed.

The Texas A&M men won the final event on the track, the 4x400 relay, to edge Florida by a single point, 55-54. The Gators finished third in the relay and were .21 seconds behind second-place Mississippi State.

But even after that race was over, it took the official results of the long jump to sort out the overall winner.

The Aggies were nearly flawless on the women's side, securing 22 points in the 200 meters on the final day and finishing with 72 to beat hometown favorite Oregon, second with 57.

Texas A&M also won the 4x100 relay and finished second to Oregon by a whisker in the 4x400.

"It's about team efforts, ups and downs, and it's about responding to ups and downs," Henry said. "All year long, this has been a unique group of guys and women."

The women lost Natasha Ruddock and Gabby Mayo - big projected scorers - to injury. And still, the Aggies found a way to score more points than any team has at the NCAA meet since 2002.

"We have so much talent on this team," said Porscha Lucas, who won the 200 and ran the second leg on the victorious 4x100 relay. "If we're losing one (athlete) we still have three more (ready) to go."

The first challenge for the Texas A&M sprinters was to turn quickly from their 4x100 relay win and prepare for the 200 meters final just 38 minutes later on a cool, gray morning in Eugene.

"It was tough, but it was manageable," Lucas said. "We look at the 4-by-1 as a warmup, so it got our bodies warm and ready for the 200."

Lucas won that event in 22.83 seconds, while teammate Jeneba Tarmoh was second in 22.92. Dominique Duncan was fifth in 23.48. All three of them had been part of the short relay.

Vashti Thomas added a sixth place finish in the 100-meter hurdles and Hillary Pustka was sixth in the javelin.

In the 4x400 relay, with the team win safely secured for the Aggies, Oregon's Keshia Baker was able to hold off Texas A&M's Jessica Beard for the win, by .03 seconds. The Ducks won their first relay title in 3:28.54.

For the A&M men, the title seemed like it might have been lost with a botched handoff between Tran Howell and Gerald Phiri in the first exchange of the 4x100 meters.

Florida, with Jeff Demps on the anchor leg, got the win in 39.04 seconds, while the Aggies took a zero.

That result put the Gators in front by two points, 38-36.

Curtis Mitchell and Phiri placed second and eighth, respectively, in the 200 meters to score a total of nine points for the Aggies. And the 4x400 relay win lifted the team to the title.

"It's my first time to get this championship so I am really excited," said Demetrius Pinder, who ran the second leg on the winning relay. "It's not a one-man thing - we all have worked hard to get this title."

In the long jump, which wrapped up about the same time as the final relay, Florida's Christian Taylor was fourth. Taylor also ran on the 4x400 relay for the Gators. Texas A&M had a pair of jumpers in the field but neither of them scored.

Henry has coached 14 championship teams in the 28 years the event has existed for women. It was his fifth men's victory.
Fifteen of his 19 team championships came during his tenure at LSU (1987-2004).
    
Henry is the only coach to sweep the men's and women's titles in the same year and he has now done it four times (1989 and 1990 at LSU; 2009 and 2010 at Texas A&M).