Fight to the top
Texas A&M laces up for title run in Eugene, Ore. on June 5-8
Texas A&M coach Pat Henry has seen it before, and it never ceases to amaze him.
This year, it was Aggies triple jumper Dave Brown, an unheralded junior who came into the NCAA West Preliminary Round meet with a personal best of 50 feet, 9 ½ inches (15.48m). Yet with a jump of 53-0 (16.15), he claimed first place and a spot in the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which run June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore.
“He gave everything he could to be on this team, and that is what happened — he ended up winning the regional championship,” Henry said. “Nobody thought Dave Brown would win the regional championship, except Dave.”
Extraordinary things just seem to happen when team pride is on the line. And it’s no wonder why Aggies athletes are eager to be a part of the 2013 NCAA championships. The Texas A&M men, who won three consecutive outdoor championships under Henry from 2009-11, are tied for the lead with 20 entries in the meet, are ranked No. 1 by the USTFCCCA and look poised to take another championship at hallowed Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus.
“I think if we do what we can do, we can be one of those two or three teams [in the mix for a championship],” said Henry, who has led his men’s and women’s teams at Texas A&M and LSU to a combined 23 NCAA team titles.
This year’s A&M team reads like an all-star team of sorts. The Aggies have four top-seeded individuals in sophomore Deon Lendor (400 meters), senior Henry Lelei (3,000 steeplechase), junior Wayne Davis II (110 hurdles) and senior Sam Humphreys (javelin) -- plus the top-seeded 4x400 relay team.
Senior sprinter Ameer Webb, meanwhile, won the past two indoor titles in the 200 meters and was the outdoor runner-up in 2012. He comes to Eugene seeded fifth in the 200 and ninth in the 100.
And the Aggies are still favorites despite not having their top-ranked 4x100 team, which was controversially disqualified in the regional meet.
“It’s a big challenge,” Henry said of winning a national title. “I feel good about this group. … I’ve got a group of mature people who have been here before; they know what this track meet is all about. We’ve got some young ones who have really matured well as this year has gone on. I feel good about the balance of the group.”
The Aggies hardly have a clear path to a fourth national title. Championship track meets are notoriously fickle, with seed times going out the window as soon as the best athletes line up next to each other, and the competition is tough.
The 2013 NCAA indoor champion Arkansas comes into Eugene ranked No. 2 with six of its 20 entries seeded first or second, plus two fifth-ranked relay teams. Leading the way is senior Tarik Batchelor, who is seeded first in the triple jump and fourth in the long jump. Freshman Jarrion Lawson, a long jumper, is the Razorbacks’ other top-seeded entry.
Not far behind in the rankings are heavyweights Oregon in third, defending champion Florida in fourth and Florida State in fifth.
Oregon features 13 entries, including top-seeded senior Elijah Greer in the 800 meters, plus the second-ranked 4x400. Among Florida’s 13 entries are junior 110 hurdler Eddie Lovett, the indoor champion in the 60 hurdles, and senior hammer thrower Jeremy Postin. Both are seeded second in their events. Senior Omar Craddock, the defending national champion in triple jump, is seeded fourth.
Meanwhile, Florida State has 10 entries, with three coming in the distance events and three in the jumps.
Florida coach Mike Holloway likes how his team looks coming into the meet, but says his squad isn’t dwelling on past successes.
“I think there is a sense of pride involved in that, but we don’t really talk about defending it or anything,” said Holloway, whose teams also won three consecutive NCAA indoor titles from 2010–12. “That was last year and our focus is on winning this year’s championship. To do that I think we really have to be focused and determined to do that the right way.”
Several other big names will be in Eugene who don’t figure to factor into the team competition.
Perhaps the highest profile event is the high jump, where Kansas State senior Erik Kynard won the 2012 Olympic silver medal for Team USA and Indiana senior Derek Drouin won the bronze medal for Canada. Kynard is the two-time defending NCAA outdoor champion, while Drouin claimed the 2013 indoor title and the 2010 outdoor title.
In the shot put, Arizona State senior Jordan Clarke has won the past two NCAA indoor and outdoor titles. Should he win this weekend, Clarke would become only the second athlete in NCAA history to win five consecutive shot put titles, after Karl Salb of Kansas did it from 1969 to 1971.
The discus competition will feature 2012 outdoor champion Chad Wright of Nebraska and 2011 champion Julian Wruck of UCLA, both of whom are juniors.
Illinois State senior Tim Glover is the two-time defending javelin champion. The other defending champions are Indiana senior Andrew Bayer in the 1,500 and Oral Roberts senior Jack Whitt in the pole vault.