The biggest winner on the fourth and final day of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., today wasn't even on the track. Sitting in the stands in a broad-brimmed straw hat, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, Texas A&M head coach Pat Henry watched his Aggies win both the men's and women's team titles, a feat last accomplished by Henry himself in 1990 when he coached at a different school, Louisiana State University.
The University of Oregon led both the men's and women's competition going into the final day of the meet. Vin Lananna's Ducks were not expected to hold onto the women's lead (they would finish second), but they had a fighting chance of clinching the men's title if they could score well in both the men's 800m and 1500m. In the two-lap event, Olympian Andrew Wheating delivered, winning the 800m title to score ten points, despite injuring his left calf during the race. That gave Oregon 46 points.
"I had to work for that one," said Wheating who passed the University of Texas's Tevan Everett with about ten meters to go to get the win in 1:46.21. "The last 300 meters were tough, and I had to kind of grit it out. We got the ten points, that's all that really matters."
Oregon had a chance to clinch the title in the second to last men's event on the track, the 1500m. Even though USA collegiate leader Matt Centrowitz didn't make the final, if his teammate, Jordan McNamara, could could finish in seventh or eighth place the Ducks could score one or two points and possibly stay ahead of the Aggies. But McNamara finished 11th and out of the points, leaving the door open to the Aggies in the final event, the 4 x 400m relay. Henry's team didn't win the event, but by holding off a late charge by Baylor University and finishing second, Texas A&M scored eight points to finish the meet two ahead of Oregon, 48 to 46.
"When it got to the 300 mark and I saw I was still second place, I see the finish line, I see the trophy at the finish line waiting on me," said the Aggies' Justin Oliver who anchored the relay team. "We're the national champions. Texas A&M. No one else. That's all I could say. We did it."
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Individual titles were won today by Oklahoma State's German Fernandez, a freshman, and Florida State's Susan Kuijken, a senior, in the 1500m, and by Michigan's Geena Gall, who defended her title in the 800m. Fernandez won from the front in 3:39-flat, completely controlling the race. Kuijken, a Dutchwoman, won comfortably in 4:13.05 over UC Riverside's Brenda Martinez. Tennessee senior, Sarah Bowman, who was expected to contend for the win, tied up badly in the final meters and faded to fourth.
The distance star of the meet was Oregon's Galen Rupp, who won both the 5000m and the 10,000m. He got the 5-K victory despite having to stop completely to adjust his left shoe which had been stepped on in the final.
PHOTO CREDIT: Susan Kuijken of Florida State wins the 2009 NCAA 1500m title (photo by Mike Scott).