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Aggies embark on another NCAA title quest at Oregon's Hayward Field

June 09, 2014
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Courtesy: Texas A&M Athletics
(photo: Texas A&M Athletics)
EUGENE – Texas A&M embarks on another quest for national titles at historic Hayward Field this week during the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships held on the University of Oregon campus from Wednesday through Saturday, June 11-14. The No. 3 Aggie men enter the meet as defending champions while the No. 2 A&M women finished runner-up for the 2013 title.

Texas A&M has won four of the past five men’s NCAA Outdoor team championships while the women have achieved top four team finishes in each of the past six seasons. The Aggies claimed a trio of men’s and women’s dual NCAA Championships during the 2009, 2010, and 2011 campaigns as Texas A&M became the first school to achieve the feat in track and field.

“We are the defending men’s champions and have won it four of the last five times,” noted Aggie head coach Pat Henry. “So we feel good about what we’ve done, but this is a new year. Everything starts over.

“We’ve had two great meets coming into this week with our performances at the SEC Championships and the NCAA preliminary rounds. I’m very pleased with the things we did to advance to the national meet. I feel good about both groups. The environment in Eugene is conducive to even better performances and our teams usually have a good time competing at Hayward Field.”

Coverage of the meet will be available on ESPN3.com during Wednesday (6 p.m. to 10 p.m. CT) and Thursday (5:55 p.m. to 10 p.m. CT). ESPNU will broadcast action on Friday (6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. CT) and Saturday (4 p.m. to 6 p.m. CT).

This season, with the women nationally ranked No. 2 and the men No. 3, the Aggies have a large contingent ready to pursue another set of trophies. The A­&M men have 19 entries from 14 athletes in 14 events while the Aggie women bring in 16 entries from 12 athletes in nine events.

The Oregon men have 21 entries while there are 15 apiece for Arkansas and Florida, who shared the men’s NCAA title with A&M last year. Nebraska and Texas sport 12 entries each. Only host Oregon has more women’s entries in the meet than the Aggies with 20 while three schools equal the A&M tally of 16 in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Texas. Totaling 13 entries are Florida and LSU.

Sprints, hurdles, and relays are key scoring areas for Texas A&M with the depth they possess. The Aggie men and women each have 10 entries in sprint and hurdle events and qualified both relays for the NCAA Championship weekend. Field events can also supply Texas A&M with points this weekend at Hayward Field as the Aggies contest nine events as well as the heptathlon.

In three events A&M has qualified four sprinters – women’s 100 & 200, along with the men’s 400.

Meanwhile the Aggies have a pair of sprinters in the men’s 100 & 200 as well as a couple of entries in the women’s 400 hurdles.

The Aggie squad features a NCAA defending champion in Wayne Davis II from the 110 hurdles as well as the women’s 4x100 relay. This season A&M had four athletes earn SEC Athlete of the Year honors – Deon Lendore (Men’s Runner of the Year), Olivia Ekponé (Women’s Runner of the Year), Shelbi Vaughan (Women’s Field Athlete of the Year) and Shamier Little (Women’s Freshman Runner of the Year).

From that group four athletes are also on The Bowerman Watch list this season. Davis, Lendore, Ekponé and Vaughan share that honor as each set school records during winning efforts at the SEC Championships and all had marks that merited a place among the collegiate all-time top 10 list.

Davis claimed a third consecutive conference 110m hurdle title in 13.23 at the SEC meet in Lexington, Kentucky, and then lowered his school record to 13.20 during the NCAA West meet. Davis, who clocked a windy 13.14 to capture the 2013 NCAA title, has defeated the NCAA runner-up, Eddie Lovett, twice this season at the Texas Relays and SEC Championships.

Three other returning finalists in the 110 hurdles from a year ago include Johnathan Cabral of Oregon (5th), Greggmar Swift of Indiana State (7th) and Colorado State’s Trevor Brown (8th). The current collegiate leader is USC’s Aleec Harris who ran 13.18 in a separate heat than Davis at the NCAA West meet.

Newcomers who can have an impact in the hurdles include Omar McLeod of Arkansas, the SEC runner-up and NCAA Indoor 60m hurdle champion, and Oregon’s Devon Allen, the Pac-12 runner-up who set a PR of 13.27 at the NCAA West.

Lendore captured a sixth consecutive conference title in the 400, indoors and outdoors, with an impressive 44.36 mark that broke a 45-year-old school record held by Curtis Mills. Lendore also anchored winning relay efforts in the 4x100 (38.50) and 4x400 (3:01.19) which each set SEC Championship meet records. His split in the 4x400 was 44.2.

A NCAA runner-up last season, Lendore is the top returning finalist from 2013. Others include Arman Hall of Florida (3rd), Florida State’s James Harris (5th), Gator Hugh Graham, Jr. (6th) and SFA’s Cass Brown-Stewart (7th). Lendore is the lone sprinter to run under 45 seconds this season while Mike Berry of Oregon, who just missed making the NCAA final a year ago, ran 45.05 to win the Pac-12 title and Pitt’s Brycen Spratling posted a 45.09 in the NCAA East.

Ekponé swept the SEC 100 and 200 titles with career best times of 11.11 and 22.23 while splitting 49.9 on the anchor leg of the 4x400 to claim a third victory at the conference meet and earn the Commissioner’s Trophy as the high-point scorer with 22.5 points. Her 200 time bettered the A&M school record of 22.25 set in 2008 by Simone Facey as well as the SEC Championship meet record of 22.35 shared by Georgia’s Debbie Ferguson (1999) and LSU’s Kimberlyn Duncan (2013).

In the 100 Ekponé will face four sprinters who were in the 2013 NCAA final, which includes teammate Jennifer Madu (5th) as well as Texas Tech’s Ciarra White (6th), Jenna Prandini of Oregon (7th), and Texas’ Morolake Akinosun (8th). Madu has produced a best of 11.33 this season while Aggies in the field also include Aaliyah Brown (11.31, 11.20w) and Ashton Purvis (11.35).

Kentucky’s Dezerea Bryant (10.96w) and Akinosun (10.99w) have both produced sub 11 second wind-aided times in 2014, but both have an 11.24 wind-legal best. Alabama’s Remona Burchell, runner-up to Ekponé in the SEC final, sports the top PR with an 11.03 from the NCAA East race.

Eighth in the NCAA 200 final last season, Ekponé will face only two other returning finalists. One is teammate Kamaria Brown, the runner-up a year ago, and Kentucky’s Bryant (5th). Ekponé is the current collegiate leader with her 22.23 SEC victory while Prandini has the next fastest mark with a 22.60 from her Pac-12 win. K. Brown clocked 22.66 at the NCAA West, just off her 22.58 career best.

A. Brown (23.12) and Purvis (22.95) are also in the 200m field for the Aggies. Purvis won the Sun Angel Classic with her season best time and placed fifth in the SEC final with a 23.32 while A. Brown has clocked 23.12 twice, for third place at the SEC and again in the NCAA West meet.

Vaughan crushed a pair of throws in defending her SEC discus title and taking down the SEC Championship meet record of 194-4 set by LSU’s Daneyl Mitchell in 1994. Vaughan launched a career best of 204-2 (62.25) in the opening round and closed with a 208-8 (63.60) as she produced the longest collegiate marks in the past 15 years.

After topping the SEC field by 33 feet, Vaughan posted the top mark in the NCAA West with a 194-0 that left her undefeated among collegians this season in seven meets.

Three fouls amid weather delays in the 2013 NCAA West meet denied Vaughan an opportunity to compete in the NCAA Championships during her freshman season. Returning finalists include defending champion Anna Jelmini of Arizona State, who finished second in 2011 and 2012, Jessica Maroszek of Kansas (4th), USC’s Alexandra Collatz (5th), Alexis Cooks of Akron (6th), and Kent State’s Danniel Thomas (8th).

Kellion Knibb of Florida State is the only other discus thrower to surpass 200 feet this season as she hit 201-3 (61.34) in the final round of the NCAA East after winning the ACC title earlier in the season with a 177-0. Her second best performance of 185-4 won the Penn Relays.

Janeil Bellille and Little have provided the Aggies with a solid 1-2 punch in the women’s 400 hurdles. Each has lowered their previous best marks a couple of times this season as they threaten the A&M school record of 55.24 set in 1998 by Rosa Jolivet when she won a NCAA title in Buffalo.

The 400 hurdle field returns three from the 2013 finals in Kentucky’s Kendra Harrison (4th), who won the SEC title in a collegiate leading 54.76, Nikita Tracey of LSU (7th) and Texas’ Danielle Dowie (8th).

Finishing behind Harrison at the SEC meet in second and third place, Bellille ran 55.67 to better her career best of 55.80 from 2011 while Little clocked 56.01. During the NCAA West quarterfinal race Bellille improved to 55.41 and Little posted a 55.98 as they produced the top two times among both region meets.

In the men’s 400 hurdles A&M’s Gregory Coleman seeks a berth into the final after placing ninth a year ago. Returning finalist include Michael Stigler of Kansas (2nd) and Nebraska’s Miles Ukaoma (6th), the current collegiate leader at 49.34. Coleman has set a pair of career best times this season, posting a 49.88 to win the SEC title and a 49.60 in the NCAA West meet.

The trio of Aggie quarter-milers joining Lendore in the 400 include Bralon Taplin, Carlyle Roudette and Aldrich Bailey, Jr. While there have been a few schools, including A&M, to produce a pair of scorers in past NCAA 400m finals, the last time one school had three sprinters in the men’s 400 final was in 1942 by USC, who achieved the same feat in 1934 and in 1936.

A solid relay leg for the Aggies in the 4x400, Roudette earned his first berth into the NCAA Championship field with a career best 45.66 during the NCAA West. He opened the outdoor season with a 45.77 PR, improving his 46.73 from 2013, and later placed sixth in the SEC with a 45.80.

Taplin and Bailey both returned to action during the SEC weekend as each recovered from injuries.

Each sprinter has progressed through each race they have competed in since returning to the track.

Taplin ran unattached at the Texas State Bobcat Classic in late April and won with a 45.97, which was his first race since March of 2013 at USC. Taplin then clocked 46.06 in the SEC prelims and finished fourth in the final with a 45.66.

During the NCAA West meet Taplin equaled his career best of 45.36 from 2012 in the opening round and then set a PR of 45.18 in the quarterfinal which was the top time advancing from the West region. Taplin also supplied a 44.92 relay split on the third leg of A&M’s 3:01.42 that led both regions.

Bailey ran 47.12 in the SEC prelims, but didn’t make the final. Entering the NCAA West as the 48th seed, which became 39th after declarations, Bailey came out of the region weekend with the sixth best mark, a 45.74. On the 4x400 relay Bailey ran second leg in the SEC (split 45.6) and NCAA West (45.7) races.

Prezel Hardy, Jr. and Shavez Hart are two of 12 athletes who will double in the men’s 100 and 200 meters. The Aggie pair finished first and second in those events during the SEC Championships as Hardy became the first SEC sprinter to accomplish winning that double since LSU’s Richard Thompson in 2008.

They will face four returning scoring finalist in the 100m from 2013, led by Florida State’s Dentarius Locke, who was the runner-up last year in 9.91 seconds, as well as USC’s Aaron Brown (5th), Aaron Ernest of LSU (7th) and Clemson’s Reggie Lewis (8th).

Hardy’s best in the 100 this season is a windy 10.19 from the Texas Relays as he won the SEC title in 10.31. Hart, who placed third in the 2013 NJCAA final, posted a 10.18 to win the Sun Angel Classic and ran 10.35 as SEC runner-up.

In the 200 there are only two returning finalists in USC’s Brown (5th) and Carvin Nkanata of Pittsburgh (7th). Hardy has one of the top set of times in the nation this season with a wind-aided 20.14 that won the LSU Alumni Gold and a 20.16 to claim the SEC. Hart, the NJCAA runner-up in 2013, set a career best of 20.35 in the SEC final.

Hector Hernandez makes another bid to reach the NCAA final in the 800, where he placed 18th last season. The experience of reaching the semifinal stage in 2013 has paid off for Hernandez, who likes to take an early lead and test the field through 400 and 600 meters.

Three races in the 1:47s produced a runner-up finish in the SEC final (1:47.84) after setting a career best of 1:47.73 in the SEC prelim race. Then Hernandez posted a 1:47.93 in the NCAA West quarterfinals to earn another trip to Eugene.

The women’s 4x100 relay have led the collegiate ranks this season since winning the Penn Relays in 43.11. After claiming the SEC title in 43.20, the Aggies lowered the collegiate leading mark to 43.00 at the NCAA West preliminary rounds. Last season A&M won the NCAA title in 42.88, which was its fifth title since 2007.

The Aggie men’s 4x100 relay set a school record with a 38.30 runner-up finish in the Texas Relays to Florida’s 38.29. Those marks rank No. 3 and No. 4 on the all-time collegiate list. In the SEC meet A&M broke the Championship meet record with a 38.50 while Florida finished third with a 38.68. From the NCAA West weekend the Aggies posted the top time of 38.84 from either region.

In the 4x400 the A&M men also hold the second fastest time of the season with a 3:01.19 that broke the SEC Championship meet record and defeated Florida (3:03.04), who ran a collegiate leading 2:59.73 at the Florida Relays back in early April. During the NCAA preliminary rounds the Aggies clocked a best of 3:01.42.

Texas has led the women’s 4x400 collegiate list with a 3:25.05 from the Penn Relays while A&M won the SEC title with a 3:28.59 and then ran 3:28.24 at the NCAA West meet. Oregon won the NCAA Indoor title by barely a step over Texas and the Ducks defeated the Aggies in a NCAA West heat with a 3:27.34.

Texas A&M men will have five athletes entered in six field events with Devion Harris (high jump), Chase Wolfle (pole vault), Olabanji Asekun (long jump, triple jump), Casey Strong (hammer) and Devin Bogert (javelin). Joining Vaughan in the women’s field events are LaQue Moen-Davis (triple jump) and Brea Garrett (hammer) while Jena Hemann makes her second NCAA appearance in the heptathlon.

The high jump returns three finalists from 2013, places 6-7-8, while Arizona’s Nick Ross enters as the collegiate leader with a height of 7-6.5 (2.30). Harris has cleared seven feet on four occasions this season, setting a career best of 7-1.5 (2.17) for third place at the LSU Alumni Gold meet. He finished fourth in the SEC with a 6-11.75 and needed a third attempt clearance of 7-1 to secure advancement from the NCAA West region.

Wolfle has battled the big guns in the collegiate pole vault this season, placing third in the Texas Relays Invitational division with an 18-0.5 clearance and setting a career best of 18-3 (5.56) for third place in the SEC. The defending champion is Sam Kendricks of Mississippi, who has cleared 18-8.25 in 2014 and holds a PR of 19-0.75 (5.81). Also returning from the 2014 NCAA finals are Shawn Barber of Akron (3rd) and Arkansas’ Andrew Irwin (4th).

Asekun is just one of five jumpers competing in both the long jump and triple jump this weekend and four of those five hail from the SEC. In the conference meet Asekun placed sixth in the triple jump (50-10.25) and eighth in the long jump (24-9.25). Improvements in each event produced marks of 24-11.75 and 51-11.75 in the NCAA West competition.

Two returning long jump finalists include SEC champion Raymond Higgs of Arkansas (2nd) and East Carolina’s Cameron Hudson (4th). Three returning finalists in the triple jump include places 4-6-7.

In the women’s triple jump seven of the top 10 finishers in 2013 return. The group is led by defending champion Shanieka Thomas of San Diego State, who won with a 46-5.25 (14.14), and includes Moen-Davis, who placed third, along with Michigan State’s Tori Franklin (4th) and Ciarra Brewer of Florida (5th). Brewer produced a 2014 collegiate leading mark of 45-7.75 (13.91) to win the SEC title with Moen-Davis runner-up at 44-6.75 (13.58). The best mark from Thomas this season is a 45-0.5 (13.73).

After scoring in the conference hammer the past four seasons, Strong advanced to his first NCAA Championship field with a 206-9 effort during the NCAA West. He broke his own school record this season with a 210-11 (64.29) to place fourth at the Texas Relays and Strong finished fifth in the SEC with a 205-8.

Defending hammer champion Tomas Kruzliak of Virginia Tech is one of three returning finalist along with Oregon’s Greg Skipper (4th) and Alabama’s Elias Hakansson (8th). Nick Miller of Oklahoma State, who finished ninth last year, is the collegiate leader with a 244-0 mark from his Big 12 title.

A school record effort of 201-4 (61.38) in the women’s hammer propelled Garrett into the NCAA Championship field. She entered the NCAA West preliminary rounds seeded 34th out of the 48 entries and placed third. Two returning finalists in the field include places sixth and seventh while the collegiate leader at 230-7 is Princeton’s Julia Ratcliffe, who finished 11th last season.

Bogert improved his career best in the javelin to 239-6 (73.01) this season and has placed 12th the past two years in the NCAA meet. Three finalists return in Sam Crouser of Oregon (3rd), Kentucky’s Raymond Dykstra (5th) and Tomas Guerra of Western Kentucky (7th). Dykstra leads the collegiate ranks this season with his SEC winning throw of 250-10.

Hemann enters the NCAA heptathlon seeded 19th with her score of 5,471 that placed her fourth in the SEC. However, only 203 points separate the fifth seed from Hemann’s position, which averages out to just 29 points in each of the seven events contested. Hemann placed 16th a year ago with 5,459 points.

The defending heptathlon champion returns in Lindsay Vollmer of Kansas as well as eighth-place finisher Allison Reaser of San Diego State. The collegiate leader this season is SEC champion Kendall Williams of Georgia with 6,018 points.

NCAA Championships – Texas A&M Schedule
(times listed in Pacific time zone)
Wednesday, June 11
1:30         Brea Garrett             Hammer              W  FINAL
4:00         Chase Wolfle            Pole Vault           M  FINAL
4:00                                         4x100 Relay        M  semifinal
4:15                                         4x100 Relay        W  semifinal
4:30         Hector Hernandez    800 meters          M  semifinal
5:00         Deon Lendore          400 meters          M  semifinal
                Bralon Taplin
                Carlyle Roudette
                Aldrich Bailey, Jr.
5:30         Prezel Hardy, Jr.       100 meters          M  semifinal
                Shavez Hart            
5:45         Olivia Ekponé           100 meters          W  semifinal
                Jennifer Madu         
                Aaliyah Brown
                Ashton Purvis
6:15         Gregory Coleman     400 Hurdles         M  semifinal
6:30         Janeil Bellille            400 Hurdles        W  semifinal
                Shamier Little                                        
Thursday, June 12
1:00         Jena Hemann          100 Hurdles        W  Heptathlon
1:30         Casey Strong           Hammer               M  FINAL
2:00         Shelbi Vaughan       Discus                 W  FINAL
2:00         Jena Hemann          High Jump           W  Heptathlon
4:00         Prezel Hardy, Jr.       200 meters          M  semifinal
                Shavez Hart
4:15         Olivia Ekponé           200 meters          W  semifinal
                Kamaria Brown        
                Ashton Purvis
                Aaliyah Brown
4:30         Olabanji Asekun       Long Jump          M  FINAL
4:30         Jena Hemann          Shot Put             W  Heptathlon
5:05         Wayne Davis II         110 Hurdles         M  semifinal
6:05         Jena Hemann          200 meters          W  Heptathlon
Friday, June 13
12:30       Jena Hemann          Long Jump          W  Heptathlon
1:45         Jena Hemann          Javelin                W  Heptathlon
3:20         Devion Harris            High Jump           M  FINAL
3:25         LaQue Moen-Davis  Triple Jump         W  FINAL
4:33                                         400 Hurdles         M  FINAL
4:41                                         400 Hurdles        W  FINAL
4:50         Jena Hemann          800 meters          W  Heptathlon
5:00                                         100 meters          M  FINAL
5:07                                         100 meters          W  FINAL
5:15                                         800 meters          M  FINAL
5:50                                         400 meters          M  FINAL
Saturday, June 14
12:30       Olabanji Asekun       Triple Jump          M  FINAL
12:35       Devin Bogert            Javelin                 M  FINAL
2:03                                         4x100 Relay        M  FINAL
2:10                                         4x100 Relay        W  FINAL
2:42                                         200 meters          M  FINAL
2:49                                         200 meters          W  FINAL
3:12                                         110 Hurdles         M  FINAL
3:47                                         4x400 Relay        M  FINAL
3:55                                         4x400 Relay        W  FINAL
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