PHILADELPHIA – The North Carolina A&T women’s track and field team has depth issues.
Therefore, it would be tempting to take an athlete like freshman Nakita Gray, who is a good hurdler and sprinter, and let her score in multiple events.
A&T’s coaching staff will not yield to temptation. Gray has exclusively competed in the high jump this season, and she has done it with terrific results. She continued her impressive freshman season at the 2013 Penn Relays. Gray had the best showing of any A&T track and field athlete – men or women – with a fifth-place finish in the high jump.
High jump is an event where North Carolina A&T does not have a great tradition. Gray seeks to change all of that over the next four years. She already has a win in the event at the Duke Invitational on April 5. She and Coppin State’s Deandra Daniel are tied for the top ranking in the MEAC. Gray jumped 5-feet, 8 ¾ inches at the Aggie Invitational on April 19 to earn that ranking.
The top 48 declared student athletes qualify for the 2013 NCAA Division I East Track and Field Preliminary Round scheduled for May 23-25 at A&T’s Irwin Belk Track. If the preliminary round were to start today, Gray, who is ranked 42nd in the east, would be a participant.
“We’re going to build this program on the backs of these freshmen and our recruits coming in next year,” said Duane Ross, the Aggies’ director of track and field programs. “Nakita is absolutely instrumental in that.
“We have big plans for her, but we’re selective in how we use her and some others because we don’t want to spread them thin. It’s about quality over quantity at this point. But you’re going to see over the next three years, Nakita can do a lot of different things on track.”
Gray could eventually compete in hurdle and sprinting events, but for now she is doing just fine in the high jump. She jumped 5-feet, 7 ¾ inches at Penn Relays. She competed strong with first-place winner Samantha Yeats of Villanova and Amina Smith of Maryland before she finally missed a jump to fall back.
Being able to compete against the best in the world in Philadelphia over the weekend, should prepare for next weekend’s MEAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at A&T’s Irwin Belk Track. She has already qualified for the USA Track and Field IAAF Junior World Championships. Ross is not bashful about expressing his expectations for Gray.
“I can see her qualifying for (NCAA) nationals, world championships and the Olympics,” said Ross, a former Olympian himself. “She is a joy to be around and she handles pressure so well. This weekend she was jumping against seniors and defending champions, and she looked like an upperclassman doing it. The sky’s the limit for her.”