LOUISVILLE - A fifth-place finish in a fast, competitive
race over 10,000 meters had Texas A&M senior Henry Lelei recording the
highest individual finish ever by an Aggie at the NCAA Cross Country
Championships. Lelei covered the flat course held at the E.P. Tom Sawyer State
Park in a time of 29 minutes, 14.8 seconds.
Senior teammate James Hodges raced to a 68th
place finish as he posted a time of 30:30.1, improving upon his place of 157th
from a year ago.
"This is probably one of the best fields in the NCAA
Championship in years," said Texas A&M assistant coach Wendel McRaven.
"When you have Olympians in the race and they're not battling for the
individual title then you know it's a deep field. I think we will look back
years from now and realize how deep this field really was."
Texas Tech's Kennedy Kithunka, a two-time NAIA champ from
Wayland Baptist, won the individual title with a blistering time of 28:31.3 on
a picture perfect day as he recorded a 4:36 mile pace. Arizona's tandem of
Stephen Sambu (28:38.6) and Lawi Lalang (28:51.8) finished second and third.
Sambu was also the runner-up in 2010 while Lalang was the defending champion
from the 2011 race.
Taking fourth place was UTEP's Anthony Rotich (29:13.5)
while Oklahoma State's Girma Mecheso recorded the same time as Lelei in finishing sixth. McNeese State's David Rooney (29:21.3), from the South Central region,
"Henry did a great job executing his race plan," noted
McRaven. "A couple of those guys made a big move and got away from him, but
Henry continued to battle and competed all the way to the line.
"James is really a great story, improving by nearly 100
places from last year's race. It's a testament to all the work he has put in.
He was the sixth finisher from the SEC, and fourth finisher among runners from
a Texas high school. That's not bad for a Texas 2A kid. It gives some insight
into how well he really ran given the caliber of the field."
Henry earned his fourth All-America honor as an Aggie and
knocked 14 seconds off his time from the 2011 race when he placed ninth.
After the top three finishers broke away from the lead
group, Lelei covered the remainder of the race with Rotich and Mecheso. Even in
the final stages of the race Lelei was challenging Rotich and Mecheso for a top
"I tried to kick in the last 200 to get fourth place,"
said Lelei. "While running with them over the last half of the race I fell
behind a bit and the UTEP runner moved ahead of us. I knew the course would be
fast, so I was expecting something good from today's race.
"Running 29:14 is very pleasing since it was a tough
race. When the leaders started running 4:20s for a mile, it was tough to keep
up with that pace so I focused on what I needed to do the rest of the race."
Hodges had another solid outing, following his
performances at the SEC meet and South Central region. Racing in an elite field
Hodges took note during the finishing stages of the race of how many track
All-Americans he was finishing ahead of and racing against.
"It was just a blessing to be here, after almost not
making it," stated Hodges, who made the field as an at-large selection. "In
workouts and training everything has been going so much better this year. I
thank God for everything that has happened this year, because it's almost been
a miraculous improvement from last year.
"It's a lot fun seeing that much improvement, knowing
that there is more improvement to come in the track season. It was an inspiring
performance for me."
In team scoring Oklahoma State scored 72 points for the
men's title as they bettered defending champion Wisconsin, who placed second
with 135 points. The rest of the top five included Colorado (158), Northern
Arizona (191) and Florida State (238).
Teams from the South Central region, Texas (291) and
Arkansas (327), placed ninth and 10th while the other SEC school in
the field, Georgia (466), finished 19th.
NCAA CROSS COUNTRY
Team Scores (31
teams): 1. Oklahoma State 72; 2. Wisconsin 135; 3. Colorado 158; 4.
Northern Arizona 191; 5. Florida State 238; 6. BYU 245; 7. Tulsa 247; 8.
Oklahoma 262; 9. Texas 291; 10. Arkansas 327.
A&M Top Individuals
at recent NCAA Cross Country Championships
Year - Individual Place Time Team Finish
- Henry Lelei 5th 29:14.8
- Henry Lelei 9th 29:29.1 18th
- Joe Sauvageau 131st 31:13.6
- Shadrack Songok 22nd 29:58.9 30th
- Brian McKinstry 160th 33:09.7
- Tommy Bonn 39th 30:14.8 19th
- Andrew Cook 93rd 31:04.2 26th
- Juan De Bastos 55th 30:26.0
- Scott Lengefeld 14th 30:54.4 22nd