GREENSBORO - The knock on the North Carolina A&T men's and women's track and field programs has been the lack of dominant distance runners. That criticism could vanish Saturday on the men's side as Paris Simmons will go for the 800 meters title at the 2012 MEAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Simmons finished first in his heat on Friday at Irwin Belk Track with a time of 1:49.18. Simmons' time not only qualified him for Saturday's final, but it also placed among the top 20 800 meter runners in the country. He also broke a MEAC meet record.
"I am really proud of him," said the Aggies interim director of track and field programs, James Daniels, about Simmons. "He has put the work in and has been a pleasure to coach. I think Paris was beginning to see how good he was last year before his foot injury. Sitting out for a season because of an injury gives you the drive that only trials and tribulations can achieve. His trials have motivated him to do well this season."
It was an outstanding day for Simmons who ran a 1:51.32 in the men's 800 meters at the University of South Carolina. At the International Friendship and Freedom Games, he worked his time down to 1:50.58. But on Friday, he finally got his time under 1:50.00, finishing better than any other competitor who ran the 800 on Friday. Senior Danzeto Cephas, the 2011 800 meter MEAC champion, is also in Saturday's final.
Simmons leads a multitude of A&T men's runners who will participate in finals on Saturday. Sprinter Jarrell Elliott, who earned a spot in the 200 meter final on Thursday, ran a 46.65 in the 400 meter preliminary round. He was six/tenths of a second off the pace of Bethune-Cookman's Stephon Pamilton, who had the best time of the day.
Torrance Womack looks to score in three different individual finals for the Aggies on Saturday. He qualified for the 100 and 400 meter dashes on Friday. His second-place finish in the 200 meter preliminary on Thursday has him that Saturday final as well. Add that to his relay races on Saturday, and Womack could be responsible for up to 50 points before the championships are over.
"We are in a position to do something very special tomorrow," said Daniels. "We have a number of people in the finals, but we have to take it one race at a time. Tomorrow is going to be a great day for A&T track and field. We have someone in almost every race and we have everyone in at least one final tomorrow and that is rewarding."
The Aggie men are currently in seventh place with 16 points. The bulk of the men's points on Friday came from the long jump. Senior Jared Baldwin led a list of three Aggie jumpers who finished in the top six in the triple jump, thereby scoring a combined 15 points for A&T. Baldwin jumped 23-feet, 2 ½ inches, but could not out jump S.C. State's Zackery Hasty who won the event with a jump of 24-feet, ½-inch. Keenan Smith, Marquis Noble and Kendrick Smith also scored for A&T in the long jump.
The 100 meter dash should result in just as much prosperity on Saturday, as the long jump did for the Aggies on Friday. Three Aggies - Womack, Darryl Williams and Earl House - qualified for Saturday's final on Friday. Womack led the way with a qualifying time of 10.72, followed by Williams' 10.75 and House's 10.82. Jeffrey Lewis will make an appearance in the 110 meter hurdles final on Saturday.
Demetrius Green had the only other point for the Aggie men on Friday as he finished eighth in the shot put with a throw of 46-feet, 11-inches.