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Texas A&M coach Henry comes home for NCAAs

Pat Henry, right, coach of the Texas A&M track & field team, listens to his UNM counterpart, Joe Franklin, during a news conference Thursday at the Albuquerque Convention Center. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Pat Henry, right, coach of the Texas A&M track & field team, listens to his UNM counterpart, Joe Franklin, during a news conference Thursday at the Albuquerque Convention Center. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Coming home, Pat Henry said, always feels good.

Coming home to win a national title (or two) would make the visit that much more memorable.

Henry, the men’s and women’s head track coach at Texas A&M, is in town for the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. During his stay, he’ll see more than a dozen family members. An Albuquerque native, he’s a former Del Norte Knight and New Mexico Lobo.

“This is a fun time for me to be able to come back to New Mexico,” Henry said Thursday at news conference to preview the championships, scheduled for today and Saturday at the Albuquerque Convention Center. “All my family is still here, so it’s fun to have that kind of thing happening.”

More fun still for Henry would be adding to his total of 34 men’s and women’s NCAA track and field championships, won over the past 27 years at LSU and at A&M.

The task will be anything but easy. The Aggies enter the meet No. 3 nationally behind Florida and Arkansas in the men’s rankings and behind Florida and Oregon in the women’s.

Arkansas is the defending men’s champion; Oregon is seeking its fifth straight women’s title.

And the one thing Henry hasn’t accomplished is winning an indoor national title at A&M, men’s or women’s.

Still, the Henry family knows a little about winning – and about running fast.

Henry’s grandfather, Gwinn, was a world-class sprinter in his youth. He also coached football at New Mexico, guiding the Lobos to an 8-1 record and a Border Conference title in 1934. He coached Missouri to three conference titles in the 1920s.

Gwinn “Bub” Henry, Pat’s dad, was a champion sprinter at Albuquerque High until football injuries ended his career. Bub Henry also served as an assistant track coach at UNM.

“You didn’t have much of a choice (in the Henry family),” Pat Henry said. “You were gonna be a coach.

“I’m just glad (my grandfather and father) weren’t bricklayers.”

Nor has the Henry family laid many eggs.

Pat won his first championship as boys coach at Hobbs in 1980. He won two more at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, before moving to LSU in 1987.

Matt Henry, Pat’s brother, won four state titles at West Mesa and La Cueva. Mark, Matt’s twin brother, coached Highland to a football state title in 1989.

Kenny Henry, Matt’s son and Pat’s nephew, has won three state track titles at Cibola and Cleveland.

That’s 49 titles for the Henrys – not counting Pat’s many conference titles and not counting cross-country, a sport in which New Mexico high school records are a bit sketchy.

Henry, however, won’t be the only New Mexico connection at this weekend’s meet – and another might have an even better chance of winning.

Albuquerque native and Duke senior Curtis Beach enters the meet ranked No. 1 in the heptathlon with a total of 6,011, achieved two weeks ago at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships.

This will be Beach’s last competition for Duke, having exhausted his outdoor eligibility. He redshirted the 2013 indoor season, primarily so he’d be able to compete in his hometown this weekend.

The heptathlon begins this morning at 10 and concludes Saturday.

One more local connection: the New Mexico Lobos, both host and participant.

The Lobos, coming off men’s and women’s championships at the Mountain West Conference meet two weeks ago, have only four athletes qualified for NCAAs.

But, UNM coach Joe Franklin said, all four – long jumper Kendall Spencer, miler Elmar Engholm, 5,000-meter runners Luke Caldwell and Adam Bitchell – “Have a chance to score. … If every kid can score, we can be a top-15 team, and that’s progress.

“We’ve made a lot of progress over the last seven years, and to be able to (host an NCAA championship) is quite special. … It’s something unique to be able to run a championship at home and have kids that can score.”

If you’re looking for a kid who can score, look no further than Arizona’s Lawi Lalang. The Wildcats senior enters the meet scheduled to run the mile, the 3,000 meters and the 5,000. He’s ranked No. 4 in the 5,000, No. 1 in the others.

It was speculated Thursday that Lalang and teammate Nick Ross, ranked No. 1 in the high jump, might make Arizona a title contender all by themselves.

Oregon’s Laura Roesler will be almost as busy as Lalang.

Ranked No. 1 in the 800 meters, Roesler also is expected to run on the Ducks’ distance medley and 4×400 relay teams as the Ducks go for their fifth straight women’s title.

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