GREENSBORO - Normally, North Carolina A&T starts its men's and women's indoor track and field seasons in January. This year, the schedule will go over a span of two separate years. The Aggies open the season Saturday, December 1 at the JDL College Kickoff hosted by Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. The throwing events begin at 10 a.m., and the Aggies first track event is at 11:30 a.m.
"Competing this early does a few things for us," said Duane Ross, the Aggies director of track and field programs. "It allows our student-athletes to break up the routine of training, while also giving them and us as a coaching staff an opportunity to see what improvements we can make before the season resumes in January. I expect to see a few personal best, but more than anything, I'm hoping to see the confidence and aggression grow that I know our teams have."
The Aggies are coming off of a season in which the men and the women finished third at the MEAC Indoor Track and Field Championships in Landover, Md. Jared Baldwin won the conference's long jump championship for the mean, and Shakia Forbes advanced to the NCAA Nationals in the women's long jump. Forbes, along with sprinter Jarrell Elliott, also competed at the 2012 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Albuquerque, N.M.
But all of those athletes have completed their eligibility, leaving the Aggies with room to introduce new standouts.
One of those new standouts on the women's side could be senior Janessa Benn. Benn finished second in the mile (5:05.98) last season at the conference indoor championships, and she finished the 3,000 meters in 10:22.52 for third place. Junior Dotrine Jacobs will also look to take championship form in the women's hurdles. Last year at the conference championships, she placed third in the 60 meter hurdles in 8.66. Senior Sherice Walker should also be a threat in jumping events.
"One the women's side we're very strong in the hurdle and jumping events," said Ross. "On the men's side, we'll be strong in the sprints as well as middle distance."
The Aggie men have three excellent sprinters. Seniors Earl House III, Torrance Womack and Darryl Williams have had multiple successes during their collegiate careers, including appearances in regional and national events. Most of the success has been during the outdoor season, but their experience will be valuable for the Aggies. Three of the four Aggies who placed second in the distance medley relay at the 2012 conference meet are also back. Seniors Paris Simmons and Steve Liggins and sophomore Christian Harrison finished the relay in 10:14.63.
The Aggies will compete for individual championships and a team title at the MEAC meet Feb. 14-16 in Landover. The NCAA Championships are March 8-9 in Fayetteville, Ark.
"A former athlete myself, I want to win regardless the situation, whether it's my first season or my 10th," said Ross, who is entering his first indoor season. "However, I also understand the importance of building something that lasts vs. something short term. As a program, this first indoor season may very well be more important than the next 10. As a coaching staff we want to seize this opportunity to ingrain in our student-athletes the importance of value, sacrifice, risk vs. reward, discipline, and commitment. It's these things that championship teams are built on. I would love a winning indoor season my first year here at A&T, however, if we're successful in instilling these qualities in our athletes, the wins are surely on the way and they'll keep coming."
Going forward, Ross hopes to diversify the A&T track and field program. There are a lot of quality athletes on the team, according to the former U.S. Olympian, but that talent is concentrated in one particular event or another. In order to compete for conference, regional and national championships, Ross wants to add depth in all areas, including distance and the throws.
In addition to starting a little earlier this season, Ross also added a few more meets to the Aggies indoor and outdoor schedules. There will also be several instances where he splits his team. One group of Aggies will travel to a meet for competition at the same time another group is competing in a separate venue on the same day. It is designed to give the Aggies a competitive edge.
"I tried to make our schedule more competitive than it has been in the past," Ross said. "I want our teams constantly facing the best teams in the country. Our ultimate goal is the NCAA Championships, and I need our team mentally and physically prepared. In some instances, we will split the squad so that those athletes who are ready for that intense competition can have it and the newer athletes who may need a bit more work, can compete in a less intense setting."