PHILADELPHIA – What do you get when you combine a sprinter, hurdler, long jumper and triple jumper?
At North Carolina A&T, you get a 4x100 meter relay team good enough to race on national television in the Championship of America college men’s finals at Penn Relays, the premiere track and field track meet in the country.
The team of Desmond Lawrence, Jeffrey Lewis, Marquis Noble and Keenan Smith finished the final in 41.15 for sixth place after a bad handoff between Noble and Smith on the third and fourth leg exchange. But that slip up didn’t put too much of a damper on what was an historic weekend for A&T track and field, which got an opportunity to compete on NBC.
The Championship of America college finals features the teams who have the best eight times during the heats at Penn Relays. The race included teams such as LSU, Auburn and South Carolina. “It pretty much means you are the cream of the crop,” said Duane Ross, the Aggies’ director of track and field programs.
On Friday, the Aggies 4x100 team ran a 40.74 in its heat to qualify. It was the foursome’s personal-best time and the third-fastest time in the MEAC this season. The top 24 declared relay teams in the east qualify for the 2013 NCAA Division I Track and Field East Preliminary Round hosted by A&T at Irwin Belk Track, May 23-25. The 24th best time coming into the weekend was 40.37. But the Aggies 4x100 runners are not discouraged, considering how they came together.
Lawrence, a sophomore transfer from East Carolina, is a true sprinter. He finished sixth in the college men’s championship final in the 100 meters with a time of 10.56 at Penn Relays. He is creeping up on what stands currently as the qualifying time, which is 10.50. But Lawrence’s teammates don’t have his background in the sprinting department. Lewis is a converted hurdler who has become a fast learner. He has posted a 10.56 twice this season. Meanwhile, Noble is mostly a long jumper and Smith excels in the triple jump. Smith, ranked 12th in the east, will qualify for the east preliminary round in the triple jump thanks to his 50-foot, 11-inch jump at the Aggie Invitational on April 13.
With sprinter Darryl Williams redshirting this season and Earl House not with the team, Ross needed sprinters. He observed how well Lewis, Noble and Smith were running in practice and figured he would make them a relay team.
“It was really a no-brainer,” said Ross. “I’ve watched these guys get faster and faster on the track. I knew those times in practices would translate into strong performances during meets. They are really setting the table for our program as we head into next year.”
Until then, the 4x100 team will try to use their Penn Relays momentum into the MEAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships, May 3-4 at A&T’s Irwin Belk Track. They will have stiff completion. Norfolk State’s 4x100 meter relay team also made the Championship of America finals before being disqualified. Savannah State has the best time in the MEAC, a 40.59 ran at Florida Relays.
“I’m extremely proud of my guys,” said Ross about their Penn Relays performance. “To see them qualify (Friday) and be on an emotional high is what a coach lives for. This was a big deal. It sends a message to the rest of country that we’re on our way.”