June 6, 2011

2011 NCAA Championships Live Coverage
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DES MOINES, Iowa - Heading into the final weekend of the collegiate track and field season a trio of teams are each eying a national championship at Drake Stadium, which serves has host site of the meet from June 8-11.

As two-time defending national champions, the Aggie men and women have had a target on their back for some time. The bulls eye looms larger as Texas A&M attempts to become the only program to achieve a three-year reign as dual Division I NCAA Outdoor Champions.

"When we talk to our team it's about the efforts each individual puts into this championship that determines how this team fares," said Aggie head coach Pat Henry, who has won four NCAA titles at Texas A&M and a total of 31 national championships over the past 22 years. "We have an opportunity to win this championship if our athletes have good days on the same day for two or three days this week.

"This is a group that is in the mix for the team championship, but there are a number of schools also in the mix. You're going to have to have a very good effort to win this championship. I anticipate some good things and we are looking forward to it."

For the No. 1 A&M men's squad the primary challenges will come from Florida and Florida State. The Gators have claimed the past two NCAA Indoor titles, and finished runner-up to the Aggies by one (2010) and two points (2009) for the outdoor championship. The Seminoles, who were part of a three-way tie for second in 2009, put together a three-year run of outdoor titles from 2006-2008.

The No. 2 Aggie women will be challenged by LSU, Oregon and Texas. LSU and Texas have claimed multiple NCAA titles while Oregon has won the past two NCAA Indoor crowns. The Tigers last title was claimed in Des Moines during the 2008 NCAA meet.

Contesting 10 men's and 10 women's events, Texas A&M enters the championship weekend with a veteran crew that includes 15 seniors among the 25 Aggies who advanced to this stage of the NCAA Championships. There are 11 members of the 2009 dual championship team competing in Des Moines and 17 athletes who were part of the double NCAA titles in 2010.

"Over the past two years the seniors on our team have been the athletes who have done very well on these days," noted Henry. "This senior class, I would say, will be no different. This class will be ready to go. They did very well as juniors and some as sophomores.

"We know, more than likely, there were be a fault or something doesn't go exactly like we anticipated happening. One of the strengths of this team is that they've been able to compensate when things do happen. Someone else comes up with a better performance than what we expected."

The A&M women seek a fifth consecutive national championship in the 4 x 100 relay, where they have an unbeaten streak of 21 races and 12 finals in the postseason over the past five years. The Aggies have averaged an all-time best of 42.71 seconds in winning the past four NCAA titles, topped by the collegiate record of 42.36 in 2009.

This season A&M produced a collegiate leading time of 42.87 seconds to win the Texas Relays and won a fifth straight Big 12 title with a 42.90 victory.

Jeneba Tarmoh, the second leg of the 4 x 100, returns as the NCAA silver medalist in the 200 and the NCAA bronze medalist in the 100. This season she has posted a windy 10.94 that claimed the Texas Relays 100 along with a 11.25 to defend her Big 12 title. In the 200 she posted a collegiate-leading 22.46 career best to win her second Big 12 title.

"Hopefully this weekend I'll be able to run even faster and contribute more to the team," said Tarmoh, who also ran on the winning 4x100 and runner-up 4x400 a year ago. "For the most part I'm focused on myself in my individual events. I don't really look at what I ran or where I placed last year, because that is history. This year something new can happen. I just want to run fast and see what happens.

"It's really a good thing knowing our team is so good in the 4 x 100 relay, so talented and diverse. I have really high hopes that we are going to do really well at nationals. I'm really excited about the 4 x 100, because we all collectively really come together and run our best as part of the relay."

Jessica Beard anchored the Aggies to victory in the 4 x 100 a year ago and has two silver medals from the NCAA Outdoor 400. She claimed her first NCAA individual title during the indoor season when she sped to a 50.79 victory in College Station.

As Beard seeks an outdoor individual title to cap her stellar A&M career, she enters the weekend with a collegiate leading time of 51.55 that she ran in her opening outdoor race in early April.

"I'm excited, but also just taking one day at a time," said Beard. "I'm looking forward to doing my best and contributing the most I can for the team.

"As long I keep getting better in each race from the NCAA regional to the NCAA semifinal, that's going to be my motivation. How I perform in the semis will be a big factor on how I do Friday in the final. So I'm ready to go."

In the men's events the Aggies have a trio of entrants in three events - 400, long jump and triple jump.

Competing in the 400 is the crew that includes NCAA Indoor champion Demetrius Pinder, outdoor collegiate leader Tabarie Henry, and Bryan Miller. All three have previously scored at the NCAA final in this event. Miller finished eighth in 2009 while in 2010 Pinder placed sixth and Henry finished eighth.

"We are going to give it our best and see what happens, especially in our individual events," said Pinder. "It's a strong field, not only between our own teammates, but the rest of the group in the semifinal.

"We try to look at this weekend as a regular meet and perform like we always do. If you think about it being the NCAA Championships then that puts too much hype into it. You just have to keep yourself composed and stay focused."

During the Big 12 Championships Pinder ran a career best 44.87 to lead an A&M 1-2-4 finish that generated 23 points. Henry has led the Division I collegiate list with a 44.83 from early April while Miller has recorded a 45.49 career best twice this season.

"It shows how deep we are in this event to have three guys advance this far in the 400," noted Tabarie Henry. "We are the only school to have more than a pair of runners in the semifinal. It's good to see your teammates with you at this stage of the season after training together all year."

The Aggie quarter-milers are also the defending champions in the 4 x 400 relay, where they hold a winning streak of 18 finals heading into this weekend. Texas A&M has won the past two NCAA Indoor titles and four Big 12 crowns (two indoor, two outdoor) over the past two seasons.

"I'm really looking forward to this relay," stated Miller, who also ran on NCAA silver medal relay efforts in 2008 and 2009. "Hopefully we will do something that has never been done before. I'm just excited about the whole experience.

"Individually, my goal is to make the final again. I'm happy that I have a couple of teammates in the semifinals with me. After running a career best twice this season it was promising to run under 46 seconds in 50 degree weather during the preliminary rounds in Eugene. I know I have a lot more to go, I'm just ready for anything."

The Aggies enter the weekend with the collegiate leading time of 3:00.45 from their victory at the Texas Relays. Since 1988, when UCLA set a then collegiate record of 2:59.91, only four teams have run a sub-three minute time to win the 4 x 400 in the NCAA final. Georgia Tech ran 2:59.95 in 1992, LSU broke the collegiate record with a 2:59.59 in 2005 and Florida State posted a 2:59.99 in 2009.

"That's one of our goals," Tabarie Henry said of breaking three minutes. "We have four guys who can run sub-45, so we are capable of doing it. We all have to do it on the same day, though.

"It's been real tough being the defending relay champs and team champions. The stakes are raised when other teams race against us. Teams want to beat us since we are the national champs in the 4x4. We always have a target on our back, but we're ready to run."

The same set of three Aggie seniors - Melvin Echard, Julian Reid and Tyron Stewart - will contest both the long jump and triple jump this weekend. All three have surpassed 26 feet in the long jump this spring while two have bettered 54 feet in the triple jump this season.

Reid has scored 11 points in the long jump and eight points in the triple jump at previous NCAA Outdoor meets. His best finish was NCAA silver in the 2009 triple jump and bronze in the 2008 long jump.

"Being able to qualify for my eighth NCAA Championship is a real blessing," said Reid. "Plus being able to do it with the same set of teammates is really special.

"I'm hoping that once we are in Des Moines all of us have the same mindset to do our very best to score, because it's a team championship. We know how special it will be if the men and women both win team titles this year. We know our contribution is needed more now than it was the first time."

Stewart returns as the NCAA silver medalist in the triple jump from last season and he also placed sixth in 2009. Echard placed seventh in the triple jump in 2009 when A&M totaled 18 points on the final day to move into contention for the team title.

The NCAA Championship weekend begins on Wednesday, where the Aggies will be involved in one final, with school record holder Sam Humphreys in the men's javelin, while contesting the semifinal round in eight races - 4 x 100, men's 800, 400, 100 and women's 400 hurdles.

Humphreys placed fifth in the NCAA final last year and has improved his school record to 251-9 this season, the fifth best mark of the year among collegians. Humphreys defended his Texas Relays title in breaking his previous school record by an inch. Then he claimed a second Big 12 title with a 238-3 effort and was second at the NCAA West Preliminary with a 247-8 effort.

Five of the eight finalists from a year ago return in the javelin, including defending champion Craig Kinsley of Brown and bronze medalist Kyle Nielsen of Washington. Kinsley, who won the 2010 title with a toss of 250-3 has a best of 250-5 this season while Nielsen produced his best mark of the season with a 253-5 at the NCAA West Preliminary.

On Thursday the heptathlon starts with A&M entrant Daphne Fitzpatrick ranked fourth in the nation with her school record score of 5,811 points. Field event finals on that day include the women's javelin for Laura Asimakis and Emalie Humphreys as well as the men's long jump. Other semifinal rounds on the track will include the 200, women's 100 hurdles and men's 110 hurdles, as well as the 4 x 400 relays.

The women's 100m hurdle field includes a pair of Aggies who were injured a year ago and missed competing in the NCAA Championship weekend.

Gabby Mayo recorded a career best 12.81 in Austin at the NCAA West Preliminary last season, but was injured during practice leading up to the NCAA semifinal. Natasha Ruddock, who had run a career best of 12.87, suffered a knee injury during warm-ups for the NCAA first round in Austin.

Both are healthy heading into this weekend, but have had a couple of hiccups with falling in hurdle races this season. Ruddock fell during a March race at Arizona State, but rebounded to post a 12.99 season best and a windy 12.96.

"I've been able to accomplish something I never go the chance to do last season, due to the mishap last year," Ruddock said. "There is still room for improvement. This is my last chance, so as a senior I have to put the injury in the past and focus on now. I have a strong urge to perform at the NCAA Outdoor championships this weekend."

Mayo recently fell at the 10th hurdle while leading the Big 12 final and earlier clipped a hurdle that knocked her off stride during the Penn Relays. She had a better result in Eugene during the NCAA West Preliminary rounds with a windy 13.31 followed by a 13.29 as she raced collegiate leader Nia Ali of USC twice.

"This is my first NCAA Championship weekend in two years," stated Mayo. "I'm excited to have made it back to this stage of the season. Hopefully, I can do some things at nationals that will redeem my status.

"My races in Eugene were better than I've had all season. I was right with Ali during both rounds so I know I'm right there in the mix. I've been gaining confidence later in the season, which I've needed because it's been a long year for me in the hurdles."