Henry Lelei places 5th in fast NCAA Championship
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, finished seventh.
"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 five finish.
"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 CHAMPIONSHIPS
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
2012 - Henry Lelei 5th 29:14.8
2011 - Henry Lelei 9th 29:29.1 18th
2010 - none
2009 - Joe Sauvageau 131st 31:13.6
2008 - Shadrack Songok 22nd 29:58.9 30th
2007 - none
2006 - Brian McKinstry 160th 33:09.7
2005 - none
2004 - none
2003 - Tommy Bonn 39th 30:14.8 19th tie
2002 - Andrew Cook 93rd 31:04.2 26th
2001 - Juan De Bastos 55th 30:26.0
2000 - none
1999 - Scott Lengefeld 14th 30:54.4 22nd