Men's Track & Field Hopes Saturday Is Their Day
GREENSBORO (May 5, 2017) – A few occurrences took place on Day 2 of the 2017 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships that made Duane Ross, North Carolina A&T's director of track and field programs, take precautionary measures when it comes to his men's program.
One, the Aggie men put together a good enough Friday to head into the final day of the conference meet at N.C. A&T's Irwin Belk Track down by only 1.5 points to Norfolk State, 54-53.5. There have been MEAC championships in the recent past where the deficits were much larger. Two, the Aggies have an overabundance of potential points to be scored on Saturday. They have four sprinters in the 100-meter final and four more in the 200m final. Three Aggies are finalists in the 110-meter hurdles and two will make appearances in 400m final. Plus, the Aggies will be favored to win the 4x100 meter relay and sophomore Lasheon Strozier has a legitimate chance to win the triple jump.
Three, N.C. A&T aka Sprinter U, are as close as they are at this point without the sprints. Senior Darren White struck again on Friday. A day after breaking the 10,000m conference meet record and gaining 10 first-place for the Aggies, White picked up eight more points by finishing second in the 3000m steeplechase in 9:20.29. Also on Friday, it took a 171-foot, 7-inch toss on the final hammer throw from Coppin State's Steven Thomas to beat N.C. A&T sophomore Derrick Wheeler. Thomas surpassed his personal record by more than 16 feet to beat Wheeler, who threw a personal-best 164-feet, 4-inches on Friday to finish second. Wheeler broke his own school record from two weeks ago when he threw 163-feet, 6-inches at the Morgan State Legacy Track & Field Meet.
With everything falling in line for the Aggies to claim their first outdoor title in 21 years and their first indoor/outdoor combo title in 21 years, Ross put up a cautionary yellow light.
“No, no, no, no, no. We are going to do our best to keep that from happening,” said Ross when asked about whether there is a chance his team will be overconfident. “Make no mistake, we're going to be ready to go. But we're not going to take anything for granted. Everybody we're competing against is hungry. Competitors want to win. We're not going to be overconfident. We just want to show what we're capable of.”
The Aggie men showed the ability to score in three other events on Friday. They picked up 10 points in the long jump as Strozier jumped 24-feet, 3-inches to finish third, while teammate Frank Quarles placed fifth with his best jump measured at 24-feet, 1 ¾ inches. Aaron Deane scored five points in the decathlon by finishing fourth. Those were huge points for the Aggies considering 2015 champion Todd Townsend was not healthy enough to compete in the taxing event. Wheeler gave the Aggies an additional point in the shot put by finishing eighth. Sophomore Hakeem Mustafaa posted five points by complementing White's effort in the 3000m steeplechase by finishing fourth in 9:43.00.
“A huge priority of ours when we were recruiting last year was to build enough talent around our sprinters to where we didn't have to wait until the final day to start scoring a lot of points,” said Ross. “When you're down by 50, 60 points down going into the last day, it puts a lot of stress and pressure on the sprinters and the hurdlers.”
Saturday's first male event is the men's triple jump at 10 a.m. The Aggie sprinters hit the track at 1:10 p.m. in the 4x1. The Aggies four qualifiers in the 100m will run at 2:25 p.m., and the foursome in the 200m are scheduled for a 3:20 p.m. start.
“Saturday is when the competition ends, so we're going to keep working hard until the task is complete,” said Ross. “I heard a couple of our athletes talking in the stands, saying, ‘Tomorrow is our day. Saturday is our day.' When athletes start echoing the things the coaches are saying, I think you are on to something.”