A combination of talent, determination and leadership mixed with a dash of hope led the Texas A&M men’s track team to a year of broken school records, NCAA hardware and the realization that impossible is nothing. The Aggies prepared for an unprecedented NCAA Outdoor three-peat in both genders but few believed the men could weather the storm.
The No. 3 Aggie men began the indoor season by squeaking out a win over No. 2 LSU (84-75) in the final event of a dual meet. The Tigers dominated the field events, while the Aggies took control of the track; highlighted by senior sprinter Gerald Phiri’s NCAA-qualifying time of 20.80 seconds in the 200-meters and his meet-record 6.63 in the 60-meters. Although the Ags dominated the track, injuries to three jumpers left the team lopsided and needed to attain balance for the national title chase.
The Aggies then hosted teams from the Big 12 and SEC in the Texas A&M Challenge, contributing to a close win for the Big 12 (363-312). The Aggies won six events in the meet, featuring Tabarie Henry’s world-leading time in the 400 after having hamstring issues the week prior. The men’s 1600 relay team ran away with a nation-leading time to qualify for the NCAA meet for the third time in the young season. Gerald Phiri equaled his school record with an NCAA-qualifying time of 6.59 in the 60, but was runner-up to Oklahoma sprinter Rakieem Salaam’s nation-leading 6.55. Aggie freshmen Prezel Hardy Jr. and Michael Bryan were nipping at Phiri’s heels as they finished third and fourth respectively. Wayne Davis II set the meet record in the preliminaries of 60-meter hurdles, and outdid himself in the final with a 7.81 in a second-place finish.
Bright lights, tall buildings and track spikes. This was the scene as the Aggies went to the concrete jungle of New York to compete in the New Balance Collegiate Invitational against many championship-caliber squads. The men totaled 80 points for second place for the team title behind rival LSU’s 97 points. Phiri shined in the big city lights, winning the 200 with a time of 20.96. Although they were runner-up, the meet served to keep the Ags reaching for the goal of a championship that blurred in the distance.
Returning home to Gilliam Indoor Track Facility as ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” blared over the PA before the Texas A&M Conference Challenge foreshadowed the Aggies’ electrifying day on the track. The Ags won 13 and events and set three school records in the last meet before the conference championship, helping the Big 12 to a landslide team title win over teams from the Pac-10, SEC and C-USA. Junior Joey Roberts bested his school record time in the 800 in a chess match of a race against a towering competitor. Junior Michael Preble also stepped up to set a record in the 600-yard run and anchor an NCAA-qualifying 1600 relay. Gerald Phiri put his stamp on the meet by winning the 200 and matching his own school record in the 60. A lopsided victory would give most teams a feeling of reassurance but the experienced group under Coach Henry knew they needed key athletes in the field events to return from injuries to have a shot at the indoor title.
The Aggies showed their resilience and determination in the 2011 Big 12 Indoor Championships by taking home the first men’s conference title since 1980. The final team total of 134.2 points was almost 30 points more than runner-up Oklahoma (106.3) and the second best in Big 12 history. Wayne Davis II jumpstarted A&M’s scoring with a career best time of 7.75 to claim a silver medal in the 60 hurdles. Then the flood gates were opened as A&M scored double digits in the triple jump, 600-yards, 60-, 400-, 800-, and 200-meters before taking gold in the 1600 relay for the second straight season. Individual winners for the men were Tabarie Henry in the 600-yards and Joey Roberts in a school record time of 1:48.89 in the 800-meters.
After months of preparation for a complete sweep of the NCAA titles, the Aggies placed second while hosting the 2011 Indoor Championships at Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium. The team totaled 40 points in the meet after breaking three school records. Record-breakers included Julian Reid in the triple jump, Demetrius Pinder earning gold in the 400-meters and the 1600-meter relay team of Tabarie Henry, Tran Howell, Bryan Miller and Pinder. Although the Ags were unable to take gold in the team title, they showed promise for the upcoming outdoor season in which they would attempt a second title defense.
The preseason-No. 2 Aggies outran the competition to the team title at the LSU Invitational against Army, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois and No. 5 LSU. A&M beat LSU on their home track 190-172 in a team-scored meet that Coach Henry called a step toward making the sport more fan-friendly. The Aggies must have wanted to draw more attention from their own fans as they won six events including both relays. A&M also finished 1-2-3 in the 400 behind Tabarie Henry’s collegiate-leading time. Demetrius Pinder showed his potential in a toughly contested second-place finish. Both Henry and Pinder joined teammates Joey Roberts and Bryan Miller to produce a collegiate-leading time in the 1600 relay. The sprint relay team of Tran Howell, Gerald Phiri, Michael Bryan and Prezel Hardy Jr. also posted a victory with the second fastest time in the nation. Some signs of life came from the infield as Casey Strong improved his school record in the hammer throw and give the men a confidence boost heading into the Texas Relays.
The Texas A&M track and field team was named outstanding team of the 84th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays at Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas. Gerald Phiri was named outstanding male athlete after breaking a 35-year-old record at the Texas Relays in his title defense in the men’s 100. Sam Mutschler, Joey Roberts, Oscar Ramirez and Michael Preble supplied a win in the 1600 relay while another victory was taken in the sprint medley relay. A&M continued to show improvement in the field events as Sam Humphreys defended his title in the javelin, Melvin Echard finished second in the long jump and Julian Reid won the triple jump.
Momentum carried over to the Big 12 Outdoor Championships in Norman, Oklahoma, as the men won their first conference title since 2001 with a Big 12 record of 175 total team points. Event winner for the Aggies were Demetrius Pinder in the 400, Michael Preble in the 800, Tyron Stewart in the triple jump and Sam Humphreys in the javelin. Humphreys became the first men’s thrower to win back-to-back javelin titles in Big 12 history with a winning throw of 238-3. Long jumpers Julian Reid (third), Melvn Echard (fourth) and Tyron Stewart (seventh) added 13 points to the men’s overall score and high jumpers Tyler Lee (fourth) and Cameron Alexander (tie for sixth) chipped a combined 7.5 points.
A&M then traveled to a stormy Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa for the 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships. Thousands of spectators anxiously endured the rain, hail and lightning with the athletes as both team titles came down to the last race. A&M emerged on the final day to become the first program in collegiate history to win both national team titles in three straight outdoor seasons.
The Aggie men ended the season with a national team title but needed a first place finish in the 1600 relay, the last event of the meet, and needed Florida to finish sixth or worse for a shot at the title. Tabarie Henry anchored A&M’s win over LSU in the event, while Florida poetically finished sixth. A&M’s final team total of 55 points pushed them one point ahead of Florida State. In the Aggie men’s three consecutive outdoor team titles, they have won by a combined four points.
Other point scorers were Julian Reid (third) and Melvin Echard (seventh) in the triple jump, Tran Howell placing fifth in the 200 and Wayne Davis II taking sixth in the 110 hurdles. These events proved vital as A&M jumped to the third in the team title chase behind Florida State and Florida.
“Our men stayed calm and did what they needed to do,” Coach Henry said. “It’s a team effort, which doesn’t start with just first place points, but includes everybody from each of the four days here.”
Doubts dropped on the men early in the season like the hail that would challenge them in Iowa, but they weathered the storm to come out on top of the collegiate world for the third time running.