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SEC runner of the year looks to defend championship

Published: Monday, November 5, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 02:11


Matt Wong

Lelei recently added an SEC Runner of the Year award to go with his haul of three SEC Runner of the Week awards this season.

After the Texas A&M transition from the Big 12 Conference to the Southeastern Conference, it didn’t take long for cross-country to make its way to the top. Henry Lelei, senior economics major, claimed first place in the program’s first SEC championship meet with a time of 23:29:95, leading the team to a third place finish.

Lelei hails from Kapsabeth, Kenya, where he went to Tulon for secondary school. Lelei then came to the U.S. and ran for Central Arizona Junior College.

Lelei said the transition from Kenyan running to American running was difficult because he had to get used to the speed. After being named men’s SEC Runner of the Year to go with three SEC Runner of the Week nods, Lelei seems to be taking the transition in stride.

"The transition was hard," Lelei said. “[America] is different from how Kenya is. I came over here and I was fast, but my first semester I couldn't catch up with people. As I proceeded on, I learned."

Texas A&M head coach Pat Henry said Lelei is one of the forerunners of the Texas A&M cross country team. In the past couple of years, with the help of Lelei, the Aggies have claimed numerous number one finishes and have competed with the best, including the third place SEC championship finish.

Coach Henry said one reason Lelei came to Texas A&M is his competitive nature.

“Henry is an individual that’s very intent on being very successful himself, but he really loves being on a good team," Henry said. "So he wanted to be on a team where there were sprinters and jumpers and throwers. He just didn’t want to be on a cross-country team, he wanted to be on a track team that had aspirations of being successful. Henry is one of those guys we love having in our program because he is a great competitor.”

Lelei transferred to A&M in 2011 after winning several NJCAA medals including a first place and runner-up in the steeplechase. Lelei continued his success at A&M, receiving the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award last year.

Lelei had early success this season, earning a first, second and fourth place finish at invitationals. Texas A&M assistant coach Wendel McCraven said Lelei was more than ready for the SEC championship.

"I think he stepped up and wanted to be a champion," McCraven said. "He came into the meet pretty confident and has been running well all season. He smashed the previous course record here and looked really good throughout the race. It just sets him up as one of the top guys in the country."

The Vanderbilt course record was 24:10:60 and Lelei went into the race knowing he wanted outlast his opponents and break the record.

Lelei said he just wanted to get the win for his team.

"It was a good race.” Lelei said. “I came here to win for my team. That was the main thing. I asked what the course record was here yesterday, so that when I was getting ready for the race I knew what I needed to do to break the record and win the race."

Lelei looks to defend his South Central region championship. Last year he ran the 10,000 meters in 30:09.4 to grab the win, nine seconds faster than the second place finisher. A&M finished second in the regional. Lelei went on to claim ninth at nationals.

Lelei said he would like to defend his title this year and get a top-four finish and possibly win nationals.

"Regionals are coming up next week," Lelei said. "I know I'm the defending champion. I'm just going to defend my title. After that, nationals is in two weeks. Last year I finished ninth. This year I think I'm in better shape than last year. These are my friends. I've raced them. I'm going for top four or five or if things change, why not take the title?"

Lelei will seek to defend his regional title Friday in Fayetteville, Ark.


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