GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Texas A&M’s second venture into the SEC Cross Country Championships takes place this Friday on the University of Florida’s Mark Bostick Golf Course. Race time is 9 a.m. (EST) for the men’s 8,000-meter race while the women’s 6,000-meter race will begin at 10 a.m. (EST).
“The SEC meet marks the start of the real racing season,” said Texas A&M assistant coach Wendel McRaven. “All of the meets to this point have been great preparation for what we want to do in November.”
Between cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field, the Aggie men placed third in each SEC conference meet during the 2012-13 campaign, starting with a third-place tie at the SEC Cross Country Championships.
Led by the individual winner in Henry Lelei, Texas A&M scored 80 points to tie Missouri with a crew of five seniors on the team. This week the Aggie men will feature five freshmen among its group of 10 runners.
The Aggie women finished eighth in the SEC meet last season with 224 points and then placed third indoors while capturing the SEC team title outdoors. Heading into the meet this week the A&M women have moved into the No. 2 position among South Central region teams and are receiving votes in the national poll.
“I’m excited about both of our teams,” stated McRaven. “The women have just gradually gotten better and better all season long. I think they’ve proven that they belong in the mix nationally and this will be a great opportunity to go head to head with some teams who are going to be at the NCAA championships.
“The men are young and have made a few racing errors along the way, but they are ready to make some noise at the conference level. I think they are going to surprise some people. If both teams go out and do what they are capable of doing we will walk away happy with the results.”
Hillary Montgomery leads a group of eight A&M women runners into the SEC meet, having been the top finisher for the Aggies in both 6,000-meter races held at Louisville and Wisconsin. Texas A&M tied Kentucky for first place team honors in the Louisville meet and finished one place behind Florida in the Wisconsin outing.
Experience on the conference level is a key element for the Aggie women as the top three finishers from last season’s SEC race return along with five of the top seven finishers.
Amanda Jenkins led A&M last fall, finishing 36th in the SEC meet, while Montgomery and Gabby Salazar placed 41st and 42nd to score the first three places for the Aggies. Sophie Blake, the fifth runner for the team, placed 60th overall while Grace Fletcher, the seventh A&M finisher, placed 72nd in the field of 124.
A freshmen influx into the women’s team has included Karis Jochen and Katie Willard while Johanna Galloway makes her first conference appearance for the Aggies.
Jochen, a two-time Texas Gatorade Cross Country Athlete of the Year while at A&M Consolidated in College Station, finished fifth in both the Nike cross country nationals as well as the Foot Locker cross country nationals last fall after winning a pair of Texas 5A State titles in 2011 and 2012.
This year’s A&M men’s squad is led by Isaac Spencer, who placed 17th a year ago in the SEC meet as the third finisher for A&M. Also returning from previous conference action for the Aggies this week are Micah Dettmer (48th) and Bobby Zeller (86th), who were seventh and 10th among the A&M group in last year’s SEC meet.
Depth and experience are provided by Austin Geerts, Ryan Miller and Jake Roberts. Miller competed in the 2011 Big 12 conference meet.
A group of five Aggie freshmen have provided the bulk of team scoring positions behind Spencer this season. Austin Wells, who lead the team on a 5,500-meter course at Rice, was the second A&M finisher at Louisville and the fourth finisher at Wisconsin over the pair of 8,000-meter courses. Cameron Villarreal was the third Aggie at Louisville and second during the Wisconsin race.
Colin Stoeber, Ryan Teel, and Xavier Jimenez have also contributed scoring places for the Aggies in their debut season.
Arkansas women carry a national ranking of No. 2 into the conference meet while Mississippi ranks 30th. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt joins Texas A&M in receiving votes nationally. Winning 20 of the past 22 SEC men’s titles in cross country the Arkansas men enter the conference meet ranked 12th nationally. They are the lone SEC team among the men’s national top 30 while Florida is receiving votes.
“Collegiate conference meets are great, but the SEC meet is just awesome,” noted McRaven. “It’s truly a unique conference. There is a great mix of school pride, tradition and true conference camaraderie. I’m looking forward to going to Gainesville and excited to run on a great course and be a part of a great meet put on by the Florida Gators.”
Preseason predictions by the conference coaches had the Aggie men and women each placing sixth in the conference meet. Arkansas was the team selected to win both the men’s and women’s SEC team titles with host Florida tabbed for second place in each race.
Kentucky’s Cally Macumber returns to defend the women’s individual title she claimed in 2012. The top returners on the men’s side, who finished behind A&M’s Lelei a year ago, are the Arkansas pair of Solomon Haile and Kemoy Campbell, who placed second and fourth in the 2012 race.