FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – In facing a conference encounter that features multiple nationally-ranked teams, Texas A&M heads into this weekend’s SEC Indoor Championships with six individuals and a relay that have previously earned top three finishes in the conference indoor meet.
The group includes returning individual gold medalists in Devin Dixon (800m), Jacob Wooten (pole vault) and Jazmine Fray (800m), who won gold in 2017 and was a silver medalist in 2018. The men’s 4×400 relay claimed its fifth SEC Indoor victory a year ago over the six years the Aggies have been in the league.
Previous bronze medalists include Nathan Hite (heptathlon) from 2018 along with Danyel White (200m) and Carl Johansson (pole vault) from 2017.
“This is a tough, tough competition,” Texas A&M head coach Pat Henry said of the SEC Indoor Championships. “On the men’s side the conference has four of the top six schools while the women’s side has four of the top seven schools in the nation. I think competition brings the best out of you, but just not us, it brings the best out of anybody who is in this meet.
“It’s a team competition and we’ll see who can enter the best 27 people to try to come out with a great team score. You can have a great team that is ranked among the top five nationally and not finish among the top five at this conference meet. It’s a different competition.”
The men’s field features seven schools nationally ranked among the top 20 – 2. Texas A&M, 3. Florida, 5. LSU, 6. Georgia, 13. Alabama, 18. South Carolina, and 19. Mississippi – while the women’s field includes nine schools nationally ranked among the top 30 – 1. Arkansas, 4. LSU, 6. Kentucky, 7. Florida, 14. Alabama, 17. South Carolina, 23. Georgia, 24. Tennessee, and 26. Texas A&M.
When adjusting the index ratings by USTFCCCA to reflect a conference squad, Arkansas is favored for the men’s team title over Florida, Texas A&M, Mississippi and last year’s champion Alabama. Last season the Aggie men placed fourth in team scoring with 75.5 points. It marked the first time since joining the conference that Texas A&M didn’t place in the top three.
On the women’s side the Razorbacks remain an overwhelming favorite to claim their fifth consecutive title over Florida, Kentucky, LSU and Alabama with the Aggies ranked sixth in the league. Texas A&M scored 62 points last year in placing fifth in team scoring, improving from seventh-place finishes in 2016 and 2017.
“Our men look quite a bit better and stronger than the ladies right now,” noted Henry. “On the ladies side we’re going to have to scrap and dig down deep to find some points to be competitive. On the men’s side we’ve got to perform at the same level we been at this season and maybe a little bit better.”
Devin Dixon headlines the men’s team with an American collegiate record in the 800m from a 1:45.27 victory he posted in Lubbock this season. Dixon has excelled in conference 800m races, winning three of the four he has contested indoors and outdoors.
As a freshman, Dixon was clipped from behind racing at the SEC Indoor and fell, finishing eighth. He claimed the SEC Outdoor title in 2017 with a 1:45.71 and then swept the 2018 indoor and outdoor titles.
Dixon has also run on the past two indoor winning 4×400 relays for the Aggies as well as the 2018 outdoor version. He recently anchored Texas A&M’s season best of 3:01.56 with a 44.24 anchor split, which is the world’s fastest split ever recorded on an indoor 4×400.
Carlton Orange, a transfer from Arkansas, joins Dixon in the 800m. As a freshman in 2016, Orange placed fourth in the SEC Indoor and finished seventh in 2017. This season, his first competing for the Aggies, Orange set an A&M record in the 600m (1:16.51) a week before he produced an indoor 800m best of 1:47.05 in Lubbock.
Jacob Wooten joins Dixon as a defending gold medalist after winning the pole vault in the 2018 SEC Indoor with a clearance of 17-3 ¾. This indoor season Wooten has improved his school record from 18-4 ½ (5.60) to 18-9 ½ (5.72) with a victory at Clemson. The indoor career best ranks Wooten 10th on the U.S. collegiate all-time list.
The pole vault has been a steady point producer in the last few years for the Aggies. The vault crew scored 18 points last season, 20 in 2017, 23.33 in 2016 and 15 in 2015. Joining Wooten in this year’s field are teammates Robin Nool (17-5), Johansson (17-3) and Logan Freeman (16-7 ½), who rank second, equal third, seventh and 14th among SEC vaulters this season.
Tahar Triki, who won SEC and NCAA triple jump titles outdoors in 2018, is competing in his first indoor campaign with the Aggies. He’s currently the collegiate leader with a leap of 55-9 ¼ (17.00) that broke the Aggie school record by nearly a full foot and ranks fifth in the world for 2019. Triki also ranks 10th in the SEC long jump with a season best of 25-1 ¼ (7.65).
The Aggie women enter the conference meet with a world-leading time in the 4×400 relay from the 3:29.96 they posted in winning at Clemson. Seven conference schools have registered the top nine times on the 2019 world list.
Following A&M’s top time are South Carolina (3:30.67), who were runner-up to the Aggies in Clemson, Arkansas (3:31.26), Florida (3:31.64), Alabama (3:32.04), Kentucky (3:32.15) and Georgia (3:32.50).
Possible scoring opportunities for the Texas A&M include the 400m, 800m and 5,000m. The trio of Syaira Richardson (53.06), Tierra Robinson-Jones (53.18) and Jaevin Reed (53.70) rank among the top 10 at sixth, ninth and 10th in the SEC 400m.
Along with Fray in the 800m, the Aggies will have Brittany Parker and Jean Jenkins, who have both run 2:08.77 this season. Fray, the collegiate record holder at 2:00.69, has a season best of 2:07.06 that ranks fourth in the conference while Jenkins and Parker are equal eighth.
The tandem of Kelsie Warren and Ashley Driscoll rank fifth and sixth in 5,000m with times of 16:46.91 and 16:48.40. The Aggie women’s distance medley relay ranks third in the conference behind Arkansas and Florida with the 11:45.01 they ran in Lubbock.