COLLEGE STATION – Texas A&M seniors Karis Jochen and Cameron Villarreal each claimed individual titles and led their respective squads to team victories in the Aggie Opener on Friday evening at the Dale Watts Cross Country course.
The Aggie women totaled 23 points for the team win over Lamar (47) and UTSA (66). The Texas A&M men claimed the top five positions in posting a perfect score of 15 points to better the field that included Lamar (55), UTSA (72) and Texas Southern (120).
In the preseason NCAA South Central region rankings, the Aggie men were No. 3 followed by Lamar at No. 5 and UTSA at No. 12. In the women’s rankings, Texas A&M was No. 6 followed by Lamar at No. 8 with UTSA No. 15.
“Karis ran away with the women’s race pretty handily,” noted Texas A&M assistant coach Wendel McRaven. “That was a nice group behind her running together. That’s a good sign for the future and a lot of people are ahead of where they were last year.
“We didn’t run a couple of our top five runners on the women’s side, but we had more of our freshmen run on the women’s side so we were able to get them some race-day experience on the course.”
Jochen led the women’s field over a distance of 4,100 meters in a time of 13 minutes, 50.3 seconds as she won by 34 seconds. She was followed by a pair of runners from Lamar – Evelyn Chavez (14:25.1) and Jannika John (14:30.0).
“It was really exciting to open with a 4k race since the rest of our season will be 6k,” noted Jochen, an All-American who enters her senior campaign with the Aggies. “This a good opportunity to get a first race in, knock off the rust, and work on some speed.
“The team looked great today, I was excited to see the rest of the girls come in behind me. It looked like they worked really well together and finished well. It’s exciting for me to see how the team has progressed.”
A slew of Aggies crossed the finish line to secure places fourth through 13th in the women’s race. Leading that crew was freshman Ashley Driscoll, who clocked 14:36.9 in her Texas A&M debut. Kelsey Persyn ran 14:40.6 in fifth place, Haley Deakins finished sixth in 14:42.3 and Devin Norton completed the team score in seventh place with a 14:53.9.
The next wave of Aggie finishers included Hannah Campbell (14:59.3), Katie Watson (14:59.6), Laura Craig (15:01.9), Lauryn Barrientos (15:04.9), Lauren Fontana (15:12.3) and Amelia McElhinney (15:12.4).
Villarreal, who returned to action after missing the 2016 outdoor season, won the men’s 6,000-meter race in a time of 18 minutes, 18.1 seconds. He was followed by five teammates as the Aggies claimed the top six spots with the top five computing the team score of 15.
“It’s a huge blessing to be back out here racing,” noted Villarreal. “Having my team there behind me was comforting. Back in the section where no one can see us I felt Elliott Farris and Jacob Perry come up on me and Austin Wells. Having that group of guys together at that stage of the race made it feel like we were practicing on our home course.
“Having a sweep for the team title, that’s the first time I’ve been part of that since junior high. It’s a really great experience and a huge blessing to have these guys out here. Today I wanted to get a feel where my legs were at since it’s been a while since I’ve turned over at that speed for that long of a distance. I wanted to stay relaxed as much as I could up through 4,000m and then start pushing from there.”
Austin Wells clocked 8:30.4 as runner-up with Elliott Farris in third place at 18:30.8 and Jacob Perry fourth with an 18:31.0. Then Christian Farris finished fifth (18:40.8) while Colin Stoeber placed sixth (18:53.3). Texas A&M occupied nine of the top 10 spots.
“It was nice to have Cameron Villarreal back on the men’s side,” said McRaven. “It’s also nice just to get those guys to run in a group the way they did. We need to do that and that’s who we are.
“We don’t have the super-super low stick, but we have some good guys. If we can have five to eight guys within a tight span then we’re going to be pretty good.”
Lamar’s top runner, Federico Gasbarri, squeezed in seventh place (18:55.0) to finish ahead of another trio of Aggies. That crew included Ryan Teel (18:58.3), Eli Canal (18:59.4), and Aaron Murray (19:00.3).
The team returns to action with another home meet on Saturday, September 24 as they host the Texas A&M Invitational.