COLLEGE STATION, Texas (March 10, 2018) – Junior track and field athlete Kayla White was an instant star once she started competing at North Carolina A&T. It took sophomore Jaylan Mitchell a little longer to get to that status. Despite their different paths to stardom, both Aggies walked away from the 2018 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships at Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium as first-team All Americans.
White obliterated her personal record in the women's 60-meter hurdles for the fourth time this indoor season by running an 8.06 in the NCAA final for a fifth-place finish. After running a school-record 6.59 in the NCAA men's 60-meter semifinal qualifying round, Mitchell finished eighth in Saturday’s final by running a 6.69.
“We did a little better this year than we did last year,” said N.C. A&T director of track and field programs Duane Ross about the Aggies 2018 NCAA indoor championship showing. “It is a process and we’re plugging away at it. We understand outdoor is where we are going to make our biggest mark, but we want to steadily improve in indoor every year.”
White is proving to be a force indoor and out. White and former Aggies 400m runner Alexandria Spruill are the only two females in school history with first-team indoor All-American accolades. White picked up two second-team outdoor All-American recognitions in the 100mh and 4x100 meter in 2017. White has won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title in the 60mh three straight seasons.
In 2018, she added gold from a different event to her collection by winning the conference title in the 60m. Her versatility leads to one of those “good problems to have.” Ross and his staff are trying to decide whether to make her primary race the 60 or the 60mh. In outdoor, the decision is between the 100m and the 100mh.
If White had her druthers, she would choose both. But Ross knows in meets like the MEAC’s and the NCAA’s, it is difficult to double in the 60 and 60mh.
“We believe she can do the 200 as well,” said Ross. “She is such a crucial part of our team, we want to be careful how much we use her. But she prefers to do sprints and hurdles. She is talented enough, wired enough and fast enough to do it all.”
Ross does want to see White get stronger. In the semifinals of the 60mh at the 2018 NCAA indoor event, White got out well, but hit the fifth hurdle was never able to recover to win the heat. A stronger White, Ross believes, could have recovered from the impact quicker.
“She needs to be at the point where something like that doesn’t throw her off her race,” said Ross, a former Olympic hurdler. “It hurt us in the final because she got a bad lane. She was coming out of the eighth lane, so she was really running by herself. If she is running in four, five or six where the top two or running, it may have been a different story today.”
While White came out earning championships immediately, Mitchell has been more methodical in his approach. Mitchell was first noticed during the 2017 NCAA outdoor championships when he ran the lead leg for the Aggies 4x100 team who ran the eighth-fastest time in the world at the time (38.76) at the outdoor championships at the University of Oregon.
Mitchell went to the podium and came away with first-team All-American honors thanks to the Aggies third-place bronze medal finish nationally. That is not bad for an athlete who started his career as a walk-on. Mitchell opened the 2017-18 indoor season by running a 6.65 at the JDL Fast Track in December before running a 6.60 at the Clemson Orange & Purple Invitational.
“Jaylan started trusting the process,” said Ross. “Sometimes it takes some of our young people a little longer to get used to a new coaching style. But once he started trusting the process, he worked his behind off. He improved in the classroom and the track.”
Mitchell will try to translate his improvement during the indoor season to a successful outdoor season. White is the two-time defending 100mh champion in the MEAC. Mitchell, White and the rest of the N.C. A&T track team will take two weeks off from competition before the outdoor season at the Weems Baskin Invitational hosted by the University of South Carolina on March 24.
“We want to have the caliber of a team that can compete on the national level,” said Ross. “We’re going to challenge our athletes in some difficult meets. We need to be battled tested. I think we are hindered a little bit when we get to these championship level meets because it is the first time we see this level of talent. Our athletes need to see that type of competition throughout.”