DES MOINES, Iowa — Going for a third consecutive NCAA championship, Texas A&M’s women were well aware that it was going to come down to a victory in the 4×400 relay.
That is exactly how it played out.
Jessica Beard finished her incomparable career with a strong anchor leg to clinch the title.
That, coupled with the men also winning their national title, made Texas A&M the first program to win dual national championships three years in a row.
“It was a great meet for us,” Texas A&M 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 women won their championship with 49 points. Oregon, going for its first title in 26 years, was second with 45 points. LSU, with 43.5 points, finished third.
It was all going to come down to the finish in the final event. Similar to the men’s side, which saw Florida State leading in points going into the mile relay, the leading team did not participate in the event, as was the case with LSU and Oklahoma on the women’s side. LSU had 43.5 points and Oklahoma was second with 42, but neither was in the 4 x 400 final. That meant the winner between Texas A&M and Oregon would claim the title.
The title would belong to the Lady Aggies thanks to Beard’s collegiate-best 49.14 split on the anchor leg as the Aggies set a school record of 3:26.31, edging Auburn’s 3:26.46. Oregon finished third (3:28.18). Texas A&M had never won the outdoor 4 x 400 title before. Then again, they never had an athlete like Beard on their team.
“Jessica is one of the best to ever run in the NCAA,” Henry said. “She has a bright future in front of her. She always runs well in big competitions.”
Beard broke the previous NCAA championship relay split record of 49.6 previously held by Alabama’s Lillie Leatherwood (1986) and UCLA’s Monique Henderson (2004). The mile relay team set another school record, topping its 3:27.33 mark earlier this season by a full second. That finish also broke the Drake Stadium record (3:27.69) set by Penn State in 2008.
The Aggies now own both the indoor and outdoor mile relay titles – the fifth school to do that since 2002.
For all the personal glory that was evident throughout the championships, it was the collective achievement that was most satisfying for Henry.
“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, he has steadily built Texas A&M’s overall program into a powerhouse, earning him his 32nd and 33rd national titles. Only now, however, is he able to appreciate his teams’ accomplishments.
“My wife was 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. This is a pretty special group. I know that sometimes they did not want to believe it, but they have to believe it now.”