Ross Hopes Track Titles Start With XCountry
New Faces: Corey Aiken (Fr.), Dorian Claggett (So.) David Conner (Fr.) and Steven Stowe (Fr.)
They’re Back: Perry Cabean (Jr.), Saeed Jones (Sr.), Neegbeah Reeves (Jr.) and Darren White (So.)
Key Losses: Christian Harrison
Strengths: The leadership of Jones and White
Weakness: A young team
Preview: Coming off of a third-place finish last year, the North Carolina A&T men’s cross country team is ready for more. To be more specific, A&T wants a cross country MEAC title.
“I like to think that we’re the top competition this year”, said Duane Ross, director of track and field programs. “Of course we can’t sleep on anyone. Rankings are rankings. We look at the preseason rankings and what schools have brought in as far as recruits, we can look at that paper all day, but at the end of the day this is why we practice, this is why we have competitions, just get out there and bang it out head to head.”
Last year, the Aggies finished third with 80 points behind champion Florida A&M (30 points) and Howard (68 points).
“I will like to think that this year going in that we’re the team to beat,” said Ross. “I think Howard will be strong. They have a well-coached team. FAMU has gone through some coaching changes, so they’re yet to determine how they will react to that.”
Ross believes that senior Saeed Jones and sophomore Darren White will be great leaders this year. Jones is a two-time All-MEAC selection. He had the 10th-fastest 8k time in the MEAC last year when he ran 26:23.50 at the Christopher Newport Invitational. In last year’s MEAC championships, Jones placed 11th. Jones also had a second-place finish at the HBCU Challenge in Cary, N.C.
White had three top-15 finishes in 8k races last season, including a third-place finish at the HBCU Challenge. His top-15 finish during the MEAC meet also earned him All-MEAC honors.
“He will be key,” said Ross about Jones. “He’s our top returner coming back from last season. He had a great season last year. I’m looking forward to him finishing up his career here with a bang. Darren White had a great freshman year. We’re going to be depending on him and Saeed a lot to lead the freshmen.”
The season opens Aug. 29 at the Western Carolina Cross Country Invitational in Cullowhee, N.C. The MEAC Cross Country Championship is scheduled for Nov. 1 in Princess Anne, Md. Going into the season Ross has named Jones, White, junior Perry Cabean and freshman David Conner as the men’s top-4 runners.
“I think we have a team that can win conference this year and hopefully make some noise at the regional championships. They just need to come together,” said Ross. “I think our top-4 athletes on the men’s side are great, we just need that top-5 to be strong. I think we have a good strong front four and we’re going to depend on them to bring everyone else.”
Assistant coach Perry Cabean oversees the men’s and women’s cross country programs. Ross said he is proud of the job Cabean has done with the program. The past two seasons the Aggies have finished fourth and third respectively. Now with the help of Cabean, Ross is ready to take all three men’s track and field programs to new heights.
“I want to see cross country and the track program combine win the triple crown (cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field conference titles),” said Ross. “That’s what our goal is this year. We’ve been talking to the athletes about it and as a coaching staff we meet and we talk about it. I think it’s there, I think it’s within our grasp. We just have to believe that and get the athletes to believe that and give them the instruction and let them put the work in and I think it’s doable.”