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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Left+to+right%3A+Freshmen+Maddie+Livingston+and%26%23160%3BGemma+Goddard+and+seniors+Julia+Black+and+Abbey+Santoro.%26%23160%3B
Photo by Robert O’Brien

Left to right: Freshmen Maddie Livingston and Gemma Goddard and seniors Julia Black and Abbey Santoro

For any other team at Texas A&M, second place would be electrifying. Finishing the season as No. 2 in the nation is an accomplishment to celebrate, a chance to capitalize on the recruiting season and garner hope for next year.
However, this is not the case for A&M track and field — the Aggies want to bring home gold.
Last season, the A&M track and field team’s success was the standard for the program under coach Pat Henry. With 36 national titles at the NCAA Division I level in his coaching career, teams under Henry expect the best.
“We’ve won nine national championships in my timeframe here,” Henry said. “We always set those kinds of expectations. We expect to be as good as anyone in the country, and my expectations are, ‘Let’s be in those top five or six schools.’ If we have an outstanding meet on that day, then we have an opportunity to win.”
For the most part, A&M met Henry’s goals in 2021. The Aggies had three top-six team finishes in the NCAA Championship last year, with the one outlier being the men’s indoor season when the team finished in 31st.
“On the men’s side [during the indoor season], we had some issues with health at the wrong time of the year,” Henry said. “We didn’t have a very good performance. But, the people who did get to compete, did a really good job.”
The men’s team recovered from its 31st place finish at the indoor championships, flipping it into a sixth place finish just a few months later at the outdoor championships in June.
The women’s team was one of the most successful teams Henry had coached in over a decade and a half. Despite not managing to get over the final hump, the Aggies earned second-place team finishes in both the indoor and outdoor seasons.
“A tremendous season,” Henry said.
Yet, this year, the women’s team is missing a few key pieces that made last year’s team successful.
Replacing talent that exits a team is never easy, but it’s especially difficult when you lose two Olympians like Athing Mu and Tyra Gittens. Mu exceeded her expectations coming out of high school, breaking numerous records in an all-time freshman season. She went on to win The Bowerman award and two gold medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Division I programs can often be a revolving door for talent, but to coach Henry, losing strong athletes is an effect of strong coaching.
Henry said some athletes you just don’t replace — it’s part of his job and a sign of success to lose great athletes — but it’s always about the next athlete stepping up and continuing to compete for the 12th Man.
Even though Mu left to focus on her professional career, she still practices with the team, and their dynamic hasn’t changed. Junior sprinter Tierra Robinson-Jones competed alongside Mu in the 4×400 meter relay, and said the team has plenty of runners ready to take over roles when needed.
Gittens, who received All-American honors in four different events last season and accounted for nearly 38% of A&M’s scoring in the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Championship, did not return to Aggieland for her final season, opting instead to transfer to a rival program in the Texas Longhorns.
Even with these departures, the women’s track and field team boasted 13 different All-American athletes in the 2020-21 season, nearly all of whom are returning in 2021-22.
“The dynamic’s the same,” Robinson-Jones said. “Nothing really changed. We’ve added a couple new people to every single group, and they all fit in well … everybody’s good. You wouldn’t be at this school if you weren’t.”
On the men’s side, the team lost a couple athletes as well, namely Devin Dixon and Olympic gold-medalist Bryce Deadmon. But after rebounding from an injury-riddled indoor season a year ago, the team is looking forward to renewed health and breakout years from runners like sophomore mid-distance runner Brandon Miller.
Miller was named to The Bowerman Preseason Watch List before the 2022 season. In his freshman campaign, he was first in the SEC in both the indoor and outdoor 800-meter and finished second in the NCAA Outdoor Championship in the 800, earning him All-American honors. He opened his sophomore season with an under-20 world record in the 600-meter.
“It’s a blessing to be recognized among the best of the best,” Miller said. “It’s a testament of the hard work that I have done and the hard work that is to come.”
Miller said the men’s team is hungrier as a unit after watching the women finish in second place twice last season.
“I remember me and my teammates … we were saying, ‘I want that to be us — but in first place,’” Miller said.
As the team capitalizes off its late-season success and tries to move on from departures, the goalposts stay the same. The goal is always SEC and NCAA titles, Robinson-Jones said.
“On the men’s side and the women’s side, there’s a collective hunger within the group,” Miller said. “We added because we reloaded. At A&M there isn’t a rebuild period, it’s just reload and get back out there.”

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