TERRE HAUTE, Indiana â A pair of All-America honors were earned by Texas A&M seniors Grace Fletcher and Hillary Montgomery as they placed among the top 40 amid a field of 253 finishers during the NCAA Championships held Saturday on the LaVern Gibson Championship Course.
This marks the first time since 2000 that the Aggies had two runners place among the top 40 finishers in the NCAA cross country final when Melissa Gulli (22nd) and Andrea Bookout (26th) led the A&M squad to an 18th place team finish that season.
âWatching these two young ladies and seeing their progression from where they started with us and where they are right now has been fabulous,â stated Texas A&M head coach Pat Henry. âCoach McRaven has done a great job of bringing them along and doing the things they need to do to get to this point. Iâm just elated for both of them.â
Texas A&M assistant coach Wendel McRaven noted: âItâs really exciting to have both finish the race that well and earn All-American. Weâve talked a lot about doing what youâre capable of doing and they both accomplished their goal today. I couldnât be more proud of them because they showed up and raced. They ran their race and took care of business.â
In her national championship debut Fletcher turned in a splendid effort, covering the 6,000-meter course in a time of 20 minutes, 36.9 seconds to place 29th. Montgomeryâs second venture in the NCAA Championship was impressive as well and resulted in a time of 20:43.7 for 39th place. Last season, recovering from a fall early in the race, Montgomery placed 190th.
âPrior to the race I was nervous, but also super excited to race especially having a teammate to be able to give me that confidence during the race,â said Fletcher. âI think we used each other to our benefit.
âI had an idea near the finish that I was in a good position, but I also knew it was going to be a battle. In the last 2k everyone was going to fight for those spots. It was an awesome experience and I was really excited when I found out that Hillary earned All-American honors as well.â
Montgomery added: âAt the finish I knew I either made All-American or just missed it. Coach McRaven and my parents did a great job hollering out which place I was at different stages of the race. I knew this was my last race in cross country and I knew I had a little more I could give.
âThe final sprint to the finish was the most incredible feeling and the most painful. I knew I was close, so I had to keep pushing but my legs felt like blocks. There was so much lactic acid from trying to sprint so hard.â
Ionaâs Kate Avery won the womenâs individual title in 19:31.6 while SEC champion Dominique Scott of Arkansas was the first SEC finisher in 20:01.3 for sixth place, followed by Tennesseeâs Chelsea Blaase in 10th (20:11.6) and Mississippi Stateâs Rhianwedd Price in 24th (20:30.0).
Fletcher and Montgomery were the fourth and fifth runners to complete the course from the SEC. It marked the first time since 1994, when there were six, in which that many runners from the conference earned All-American honors in the NCAA Championship.
A key to the success Fletcher and Montgomery enjoyed in the national championship race was a fast start. It was an element of the race that carried over from Montgomeryâs experience in the 2013 meet.
âRacing here previously helped me a lot,â said Montgomery. âI couldnât image having a better last cross country race for Grace and I. Last year I got lost up in the crowd during the start, so this year I told Grace we have to get good starts and into a good position. Thatâs what we did and I think it helped having that experience as well as running with a teammate this time.â
Fletcher added: âThe start was definitely quick, but I feel that when Coach McRaven takes us to meets like Wisconsin it helps prepare us for this type of meet. It wasnât that challenging of a course, but the conditions being windy and a bit muddy added some challenges to the race.â
Running with a teammate also had its benefit to the pair of Aggies, who have been roommates in college and on road trips.
âBeing together this whole trip was probably a level of comfort for both,â stated McRaven. âItâs hard to be here by yourself as an individual. Theyâre roommates and training partners so it was good for them to experience this together as seniors.â
In the battle for the womenâs team title No. 1 Michigan State scored 85 points for the championship over Iowa Stateâs 147. The rest of the top 10 included New Mexico (188), Georgetown (189), Arkansas (209), Oregon (249), Colorado (267), West Virginia (277), Iona (377) and Wisconsin (382).