Recently I posted my opinion of the Pac10 after viewing their conference meet on Fox Sports. Having had the opportunity to watch the Big12 championship this past weekend I want to add to my conference outlooks prior to the start of the regional meets this upcoming weekend.
First off, before I get any further, let me say that this meet was run under very, very poor weather conditions. Yet there were some very good marks that came out of this meet. And most certainly there are athletes in this conference that will have a lot to say about who takes home the hardware in Eugene next month.
Having said that, on the women's side of the ledger this meet was all about the Texas A&M Aggies and Lisa Koll of Iowa State. The Aggies are a sprint powerhouse in the mold of past Texas and LSU squads. Probably not much of a coincidence since Aggie coach Pat Henry used to coach at LSU – and he hasn’t lost his touch. The amazing thing about their performance as a team was that they were able to dominate this meet without top sprinter Gaby Mayo who was being rested in anticipation of the Regional and National meets. Without Mayo they still scored 157 points (over Nebraska’s 107) and didn’t miss a beat in the sprinting department.
Without Mayo the Aggies still won the 4x1 relay and scored 18 points in the 100, 27 points in the 200, and 15 points in the 100 hurdles – all events where Mayo is among the nations best. In her absence we got what just may have been the emergence of sophomore Jeneba Tarmoh as a national force. Tarmoh won both the 100 & 200 as well as contributing a leg on the winning 4x1, taking the national lead in the 200 in the process. Throw in conference champions Jessica Beard (400) and Natasha Ruddock (100 hurdles), 200 runner up Porscha Lucas, both relays and a returning Gaby Mayo, and the Aggies have enough speed strength to make things interesting with the Oregon women in a few weeks! They’re not as deep as the Ducks overall, but if the Aggies can get a little help from some other squads in reducing the number of points the Ducks can get in the speed events, it could be a speed vs distance battle for the NCAA title.
The Aggies will get some help from the Big 12, as Lisa Koll is clearly the best long distance runner in the nation. Koll is the national leader in both the 5000 and 10000 and looked every bit the part here as she cruised to easy wins in both. She is a big time performer who seems to be very dialed in to her pace right now. She doesn’t seem to have much competition at this level and looks ready to step up to the next level, much the same as Jenny Barringer did this time last year.
On the men’s side of things its about the Aggies and Oklahoma hurdler Ronnie Ash. The Aggies are the defending national champion and like their female counterparts, the Aggie men are powered by their sprinters. Conference champions Gerald Phiri (100), Curtis Mitchell (200) and Tabarie Henry (400) are the core that ran the Aggie machine in this meet and will have to come through in Eugene if they hope to repeat. All three have a shot at taking the podium in their individual events. And judging from their conference runs Phiri and Mitchell have a shot at individual gold – especially Mitchell. But their road to another title could be fragile as they don’t have the overall depth that they had last year and that a few other teams have this year. In Missouri they finished third behind Nebraska and Oklahoma – two teams not anticipated to be in the overall title hunt in Eugene – and they finished behind Baylor in the 4x1. To repeat their big 3 and both relays will have to come through with big points, any falters and their chase for a title could be over early. A potentially tough chore with the Pac10, ACC and SEC all sending powerful sprint squads to Eugene.
Just as Lisa Koll is the conference’s most dominating athlete on the women’s side, hurdler Ronnie Ash may be on the men’s side. Ash leads the nation in the high hurdles at 13.31 – his winning time here – and has five races under 13.60 this season.Only WR holder Dayron Robles and current world leader David Oliver have run faster this season. Ash should head into Eugene as one of the strongest favorites in the meet having won the title last year while at Bethune Cookman.
Finally, look for the Baylor Bears to make some noise. They don’t have any big name athletes this time around, but as they showed in the 4x1 here they will be someone to recon with. Watch for them as they attempt to play spoiler in both relays, and potentially stealing points in the 200 & 400.
These are the faces to look for come Eugene. While the big points should come from the Pac10 and the SEC watch for the teams from the Big12 to decide who the teams titles go to. Both Texas A&M squads will most certainly be in the conversation, and scorers from throughout the conference could steal away points some of the leading schools could need to cement a title.