LOUISVILLE - Texas A&M will have a pair of seniors
competing at the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Nov. 17, at the
E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park with Henry Lelei and James Hodges representing the
Coverage of the meet will be available online at www.ncaa.com with the women's race beginning at 11
a.m. (CT) while the men's race starts at 12:15 p.m. (CT). A pre-race show at 10
a.m. (CT) is available via www.flotrack.org.
Last season both Lelei and Hodges were part of an A&M
squad that placed 18th in the national meet. Lelei placed ninth at
the NCAA Championship while Hodges finished 157th and was 123rd
among the individuals involved in team scoring.
"I was hoping we would qualify as a team to represent the
school at the NCAA Championships, but it will be good to have at least one
teammate running in the race with me," said Lelei.
This time a different course awaits the Aggie pair as the
University of Louisville plays host after an eight-year run by Indiana State
serving as host in Terre Haute, Indiana.
"I like running on a new course that I haven't been on
before," stated Lelei. "I don't necessarily enjoy running on the same course
again, especially if you didn't race well on that course."
Hodges added: "I'm pretty happy that we are going to a
new course. I've heard it has a short starting area, which is what I like. I
enjoy having a quick start and having the field narrow down faster as opposed
to a really long start in a big race like this."
During the South Central meet a strong start had Hodges
in third place at the halfway point of the race, covering the first 5,000
meters in 15:25.3 as he led the rest of the lead pack by three seconds while
trailing only Lelei (14:43.0) and McNeese State's David Rooney (15:00.0) at
that stage of the race.
Defending his NCAA South Central title last weekend added
to the collection of cross country titles for Lelei this fall. Winning the SEC
meet last month and earning SEC Runner of the Week honors three times secured
the SEC Runner of the Year honor for Lelei during the Aggies first season in
the elite conference. Lelei also was named the men's South Central Athlete of the
Year, as selected by region coaches, for a second consecutive year.
Hodges, meanwhile, has been the second finisher on the
Aggie squad in four of the five meets he has contested this season. At the SEC
meet Hodges placed 15th and then finished 13th at the
South Central meet, where he was fifth among the runners not on team qualifying
for the NCAA Championships.
"I found out late Friday evening when Coach McRaven
called me after we returned home from the region meet," noted Hodges. "I was in
disbelief because when I looked at the results I didn't think I could make it
individually. So, it was a very big blessing to find out that I did make it.
"It will be different racing in this meet individually,
because as a team every point counts. Now I'm racing just to finish as high as
possible. In shooting for a higher finish, sometimes you can take chances you
normally wouldn't take as part of a team."
Lelei enters the 2012 national meet with the third
fastest time among the nine region meets held this past weekend. He covered the
10,000-meter course at Agri Park in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a time of
29:36.42. Last season Lelei finished ninth in the national meet with a time of
The two runners who posted faster region winning times last
week included defending NCAA champion Lawi Lelang of Arizona, who claimed the
West region in 29:01.80, and Eastern Kentucky's Soufiane Bouchikhi, who won the
Southeast region in 29:32.37.
Lelang won the 2011 NCAA title by 13-plus seconds as he
produced a time of 28:44.1 over a challenging course while Bouchikhi finished 47th
a year ago.
In addition to the defending champion Lelang in the field
another returning athlete is Arizona's Stephen Sambu, the 2010 NCAA runner-up (29:26.5)
who had a red-shirt last season. Wisconsin returns as the defending team
champion, led by Mohammed Ahmed, who placed fifth a year ago in 29:06.7.
"It will be a different meet this time, running
individually rather than as part of a team," said Lelei. "For me I feel I'm
more ready now to challenge the leaders, in particular the two runners from Arizona.
After racing them earlier this season at Wisconsin I learned from that
encounter what I need to do when I race them again.
"I'll stick with them as much as I can, because I know when
they pull away you normally can't close that gap again. When they pull away I
know it's time to go. I think it will be a fast race."
Two other top 15 finishers from the 2011 NCAA race
includes Paul Chelimo (13th - 29:39.1) of UNC-Greensboro, who was
second in the Southeast region with a 29:36.51, and North Carolina State's
Andrew Colley (15th - 29:40.0), who finished third in the Southeast
Double champions on the NAIA and NJCAA levels in 2010 and
2011 are among the challengers this season with Texas Tech's Kennedy Kithuka
and Kemoy Campbell of Arkansas. Kithuka (23:15) won the 2011 NAIA title over an
8,000-meter course for Wayland Baptist while Campbell (25:22.08, 8k) claimed
the 2011 NJCAA title for South Plains.
Among a field of over 256 runners, which includes 31
teams comprised of seven runners along with 39 individual runners, the top 40
finishers will earn All-American status.
Top 10 NCAA Region
Times - 2012
Time Athlete Region 2011 NCAA result (or another
Lelang (Az) West 1st (28:44.1)
Bouchikhi (EnKy) Southeast 47th (30:20.7)
29:36.42 Henry Lelei (TxA&M) South Central 9th (29:29.1)
Chelimo (UNCG) Southeast 13th (29:39.1)
Kithuka (TxT) Mountain NAIA - 1st (8k 23:15 with
Sambu (Az) West RS - 2nd
(29:26.5 in 2010)
Colley (NCSt) Southeast 15th (29:40.0)
Rooney (McN) South Central RS - 50th (30:36.9 in 2010)
Dunbar (Or) West 35th (30:04.1 with
Campbell (Ar) South
Central NJCAA - 1st (8k
25:22.08 with South Plains)
2012 Region champions:
Goose (Iona) Northeast 40th (30:12.4)
Mahoney (Temple) Mid-Atlantic Red-shirt 2011
Zivec (FlSt) South 138th (31:07.1)
O'Hare (Tulsa) Midwest Red-shirt 2011
Ahmed (Wisc) Great Lakes 5th (29:06.7)