Preseason region rankings for the upcoming cross country season released on Monday have the Texas A&M program ranked second in the men's field and third in the women's field among teams that comprise the South Central region.
The Aggies will open the season in Waco on Friday with the Baylor Twilight Invite held on the Heart of Texas Soccer Complex. Race time is 7 p.m. with a women's 4,000-meter race followed by a men's 6,000-meter race.
The preseason rankings for the men in the South Central region follow their 2011 finish with Texas at No. 1 followed by the Aggies and Arkansas in the top three while Lamar and Rice are included in the top five.
For the A&M women a No. 3 ranking behind Arkansas and Texas matches their finish in last year's region meet when they improved upon their No. 6 ranking prior to the South Central meet. Rounding out the top five are Baylor and TCU.
Texas A&M men finished second in the region a year ago to earn a rare team berth into the NCAA Championship field, where the Aggies finished 18th behind an All-America finish by lead runner Henry Lelei, who placed ninth in the national meet after winning the South Central title.
"It's good that we have most of the team returning from last year," noted Lelei. "That's the most exciting part about being with this team. This should be another good season for us and we want to return to the NCAA Championships.
"Individually, I'm looking forward to having a better season. I want to lead the team to where they are supposed to be. In moving into the SEC it will be fun to race Arkansas a couple of times this season at conference and in the region meet."
Lelei, who also placed fourth in the steeplechase at the NCAA Outdoor Championship, returns for his senior season along with a veteran crew that includes five other seniors - C.J. Brown, Stephen Curry, James Hodges, MacLean O'Donnell and James Welin.
On the national scale Lelei is one of the top returning runners from the NCAA Championship field, where there were 10 seniors among the top 15 finishers in 2011.
The Aggie women are led by Natosha Rogers, who qualified individually for the NCAA Championship field after placing sixth in the region meet. After placing 57th in the national cross country meet, Rogers went on to earn All-America honors at the NCAA Indoor meet and then flourished during the outdoor season with a NCAA Championship title in the 10,000 meters and an Olympic Trials runner-up finish in just her fourth race over that distance.
"I'm looking forward to a new start," Rogers said. "I want to have a clean slate. I'm hoping to definitely do better at cross country nationals. Right now I'm just mentally trying to get back into it for this season.
"I know the course we will be running the SEC Championships on very well, since I trained with my sister in Nashville last summer. I know some of the top competitors from the SEC and I'm actually excited to race them later this fall."
Joining Rogers as returnees with experience on the A&M women's squad are Tara Upshaw, Hillary Montgomery, Amanda Jenkins, Sophie Blake, Haley Parsons and Shawn Dalglish.
Only two SEC men's teams advanced to the NCAA Championships a year ago with Georgia placing 29th and Florida 30th. SEC champion Arkansas finished third behind Texas and Texas A&M at the South Central region meet and didn't qualify for the national meet.
Women's teams from the SEC who competed in the NCAA Championships last season included sixth-place Vanderbilt and Arkansas, who finished 14th.
South Central Region
2. Texas A&M
6. Texas A&M - Corpus Christi
7. McNeese State
9. Stephen F. Austin
South Central Region
3. Texas A&M
10. Stephen F. Austin