Teams make a run for it
Action begins Wednesday at the DI Track and Field Champ.
In 25 years of coaching track and field, Pat Henry has seen just about everything. Twice watched LSU’s and Texas A&M’s two-time defending NCAA champion men’s and women’s teams have their bids for a historic third consecutive title denied.
He coached them both.
He’s got another shot at a three-peat with the Aggies this year at the NCAA championships running Wednesday through Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa, but it isn’t his primary objective. Excellence, whatever that yields, is.
“It’s not something you think real hard about,” said Henry, who has won four NCAA titles at Texas A&M and a total of 31 national championships over the past 22 years. “It’s not true to say you don’t think about it at all, because you do. The main emphasis here is making sure each individual does exactly what they are capable of doing over the next few days. With the talent we have in the mix [in the men’s competition], three or four or five [men’s] teams have the opportunity to win.”
The Aggies are the favorite on the men’s side with Florida and Florida State considered their greatest threats to the title. The Gators, winners of the past two NCAA indoor titles, and finished runner-up to the Aggies for the outdoor title by one point in 2010 and two points in 2009. The Seminoles, part of a three-way tie for second in 2009, won three consecutive outdoor titles from 2006-2008.
In the face of the heady task ahead, Henry remains confident.
“I am very pleased with the group we’ve brought in,” Henry said. “Some of the guys we have are experienced. There are a few that have never been here. The ones who have been in the battle before, they’re tough. They know what is going on and have prepared for it all year.”
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Three entrants will participate in three events for the Aggies - 400, long jump and triple jump. In the 400 will be NCAA indoor champion Demetrius Pinder, outdoor collegiate leader Tabarie Henry, and Bryan Miller.
Texas A&M is the defending champ in the 4x400 relay. Currently on an 18 finals winning streak, the Aggies have won the past two NCAA indoor titles and four Big 12 crowns (two indoor, two outdoor) over the past two seasons.
Aggie seniors Melvin Echard, Julian Reid and Tyron Stewart will contest both the long jump and triple jump this. All three have surpassed 26 feet in the long jump this spring while two have bettered 54 feet in the triple jump this season.
First up for the Aggies Wednesday is school record holder Sam Humphreys in the men's javelin. A fifth-place finisher in last year’s finals, Humphreys improved his school record to 251-9 this season – No. 5 among collegians. He also defended his Texas Relays title in breaking his previous school record by an inch, and won a second Big 12 title.
As for a chance at the title this year, Henry is hoping momentum counts for something.
“The last two times the men and women were not supposed to win,” Henry said. “But we’ve got the ball rolling going into this year and we’ll see what happens.”
Florida is hoping its 17 slots in this year’s championships – the second-most in the nation this year – will help it fill that hole in its resume of never having won an outdoor championship. If it does so, the Gators will become just the fourth team in NCAA history to win the national title both indoors and outdoors in the same season.
“We’re looking forward to going out and competing at a high level,” Florida head coach Mike Holloway said. “We’ve talked to our team about execution – being at a high level with a lot of intensity this weekend and just doing what we do. Everybody did a great job with handling the pressure of the first round. We talked before that meet about it being the first round of the NCAA meet and it was a win or go home mentality. This week, I am just looking forward to great performances by everybody who puts on the Gator uniform.”
Gator sprinter Jeff Demps, jumper Christian Taylor and 4x100 meter relay team will be out to defend their titles. Demps is the 2010 NCAA 100 meter champion, Taylor won the 2010 NCAA triple jump and the Florida’s 4x100-meter relay team is looking for a third consecutive outdoor championship.
FSU coach Bob Braman is counting on quality and quantity in Des Moines. In terms of quality, he said this team is the best he’s had since his standout 2006 squad. As for quantity, the Seminoles have the opportunity to score points in 10 events, which could mean the world at the championships.
“I think we have a good chance to get 60 points on the board,” Braman said. “If we do that, we would be hard to beat. Now we’d have to be almost perfect to do it. That’s a big number, but we could do it. I feel pretty good where we are. I really like our team.
FSU has a mix of everything in the 10 events – the 100, 200 and 400-meter dashes, long jump, pole vault, shot put, discus and the 5000 and 10000-meter runs as well as the 4x100m relay.
The 100 meter dash will feature Ngoni Makusha and Maurice Mitchell, who have the nation's No. 2 and 3 times, respectively. Mitchell also has the nation's top time in the 200 meter dash. Makusha is also the favorite in the long jump where he boasts the country's top mark and the best wind-assisted jump in the entire world. Makusha and Mitchell will also be featured in the highly competitive 4x100m relay. With those entrants, FSU can feel good about its team’s chances.
“You really want to control your own destiny and not have any hiccups this week,” Braman said. “We don’t want to worry too much about the championship. Let’s be good first. If we have a chance to be great, let’s do that.”