By Kandace Watkins
ncataggies.com contributor

Saturday, September 10, marks the first meet of the 2011 season for the North Carolina A&T men's and women's cross country teams as they compete in the N.C. Central Invitational in Durham at 9 a.m.

The 2011 squad has been preparing diligently for this upcoming season, beginning with a 10-week conditioning program. However, the team is eager to compete against one its foes.

James Daniels, the associate head coach for the Aggies track and field programs, said the atmosphere around the team has been outstanding.

"They are excited to get started," added Daniels. "Training is training, but competition is something we all look forward to every weekend."

Two potential leaders for the women's team this season are juniors Janessa Benn and Kristin Rush, who finished in 14th and 15th place respectively at the 2010 MEAC Cross Country Championships. Both women earned All-MEAC honors.

For the men, Daniels is looking at senior Danzeto Cephas and junior Paris Simmons to fill the leadership positions. Both men performed well at the MEAC meet, with Cephas as the highest Aggie finisher.

"I believe our runners are maturing and understanding how to compete at a level that is representative of our university," said Daniels. "I encourage my team to maximize their potential in everything they do, especially in the classroom. I believe as a team we are ambassadors representing a great institution and Aggie Pride is transcended in how we conduct ourselves."

The Aggies will face NCCU twice this season. Although N.C. A&T defeated NCCU in last year's match-up, the squad is preparing for an improved competitor.

"I expect the [Eagles] to be better without a doubt, this will be their first season as MEAC members," said Daniels. "Remember, this is A&T versus Central, if this was a hop-scotch meet we would still be going hard."

The Aggies are ambitious and focused as they enter the new season under new director of track and field programs Tony Veney. Veney joins the Aggie family with more than 35-years of coaching experience under his belt.

"We will sometime in the near future contend for the MEAC Cross Country Championship," said Daniels. "Veney wants us to move in that direction aggressively."