If you are going for your third consecutive NCAA championship, you go in knowing that you need to take care of your own business and hope for some help along the way. That was the successful formula for Texas A&M as it came down to a victory in the last event, the 4×400 relay, to clinch the title for the Aggies. Coupled with the women also winning the title, Texas A&M became the first program ever to win both national championships at the same time in three consecutive years.
“It was a great meet for us,” head coach Pat Henry said. “That has a lot to do with it. We had outstanding performances. We stress that you have to get every point you can get.
“This was big-time competition, and the ones we have who compete at the highest level needed to compete at that level. And the ones at the next level needed to compete at that level. It all adds up.”
The men won their championship with 55 points, one better than Florida State (54) and two better than Florida (53). Going into the championships in Des Moines, FSU coach Bob Braman said it would add excitement if the title came down to the last event. It did, with his team ahead on points going into the mile relay. FSU was powerless to build on that lead, as it did not have a team in the event.
“A nine-point lead with one event to go is not a good situation to be in against a team like Texas A&M,” Braman said.
That opened the door for the Aggies, who needed the 10 points for the win and a Florida finish below fifth place to earn the title. It all fell into place with Tabarie Henry holding off LSU’s Riker Hylton to win the event 3:00.62 to 3:01.07. Florida – which lost last year’s title by one point and the 2009 title by two points to the Aggies – accommodated as well by finishing sixth. It was A&M’s 19th consecutive victory in the 4×400 and completed an indoor/outdoor sweep of the NCAA relay titles for the past two years.
“It was nice to have the mile relay team [going into the final event],” Henry said. “As a coach, you never want to leave and not have a mile relay team on the track [the last day].”
The time by A&M was the second fastest in school history, trailing only the 3:00.45 the Aggies set earlier this season. It was needed, as was every other break the team got along the way.
“I don’t look at the team score until the [mile] relay is over,” Henry said. “There are just so many things that can happen. We picked up a point in the javelin by three centimeters [when Sam Humphreys earned a bronze for the Aggies ahead of Florida]. The hurdles, someone [Texas Tech’s Omo Osagha and Cincinnati’s Terence Somerville] falls down and we move up one place. And there are always disqualifications [like the lane violation by Texas Tech sprinter Gil Roberts that cost his school the points lead heading into the final day].”
Those mishaps and Texas A&M’s mastery brought it all home: It takes everybody to win.
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“People tend to think that track is an individual sport,” Henry said. “It takes a team. Not two people or four people. It’s a group of individuals striving together. It was a great team competition at the meet.
“When you are talking about the national championship, you want to qualify [in the regionals] as many as you can. Some get one or two or seven or 15. We wanted to get as many individuals as we could to have them all be a part of a team. It wasn’t so much what I expected of them. It is about what the team expected of each other. They push each other to be better. And what’s great is working with young people. They know the challenge that is ahead of them and they go out and meet the challenge.”
They’ve done so with historic consistency. Since arriving from LSU, Henry has steadily built Texas A&M’s overall program into a powerhouse and earned his 32nd and 33rd national titles. Only now is he able to appreciate his teams’ accomplishments.
“My wife was to telling me, ‘Do you understand what’s going on,’” Henry said of the triple double. “In 38 years of coaching they are two of the better groups I’ve ever had. And they are getting better.
“I felt we had a lot of great talent [going into the season], we had a great returning group. I felt we had a chance to be good this year. These are a pretty special group. I know that sometimes they did not want to believe it, but they have to believe it now.”