Indoor Track and Field Starts Saturday
GREENSBORO (November 30, 2017) – The North Carolina A&T indoor track and field programs open their indoor seasons on Saturday at the JDL College Kickoff at the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem with the men’s and women’s squads primed for a big year after winning last season’s conference titles on both sides in dominating fashion. Back to lead the Aggies in his sixth season at the helm is director of track and field programs Duane Ross, who is exited to get the 2017-18 season underway.
“Nothing has changed. Our goals and expectations are the still the same,” said Ross. “We expect to win our conference’s indoor and outdoor men’s and women’s titles. We expect to finish higher at the upcoming NCAA championships especially in the indoor season. Last year we did not have the best indoor competition at the NCAA championships, so I am adamant about having our team prepared not just for our MEAC championships but the NCAA Indoor Championships. We corrected some things after the NCAA indoors and performed well at the outdoor NCAA regionals and NCAA championships. But this year we are excited about the team we have.”
The men’s squad will look to its veteran core of seniors Todd Townsend and Dajuan Harding along with juniors Michael Dickson, Lasheon Strozier, Rodney Rowe and Justin Hamilton. Last season, the Aggies had five first-team All-MEAC performers, three on the second team and four on the third team after ending a 21-year drought winning the 2017 MEAC Men’s Indoor Track and Field Championship.
Townsend is the reigning two-time indoor heptathlon conference champion. An injury slowed him down for the outdoor season, but he is back and seems healthy for another run at the heptathlon MEAC title. Rowe is the top returner in the 60m. He finished in second at the MEAC indoor championships last season with a personal-best 6.76 behind last season’s superstar standout Christopher Belcher. He also finished second in the 200 at the conference indoor championships (21.59) after finishing first in the preliminaries (21.72).
Dickson battled injuries a year ago, but still recorded the nation’s fourth fastest time in the indoor 60-meter hurdles and had the fastest time in the country as late as Feb. 4. The Aggies are counting on Strozier to lead the jumps after competing at both the indoor and outdoor NCAA Championships last season.
“I am extremely excited about our 400-meter group,” said Ross. “We have a strong core of 400 meter runners. That is one event that I am geared up to watch this year.”
Harding won the last season’s MEAC outdoor and indoor titles and went on to compete at outdoor nationals in the 400m. He also led the 4x400 relay team that went on to win the MEAC indoor title. Hamilton and Trevor Stewart are two other strong 400 runners who Ross is expecting big performances from this season.
Two newcomers to watch for the Aggie men are freshmen Aaron Wilkerson (Greensboro, N.C./Guilford HS) and Semaj Anderson (Pendleton, S.C./Pendleton HS). Both should make immediate impacts in the field events. Wilkerson won the shot put state championship at the Class 3-A state track and field meet and was the thrower of the year in North Carolina. Anderson won both the high jump and triple jump at the South Carolina Class 4-A state track and field meets.
The Aggie women scored victories in the 60, 400, 60mh, 4x400m relay, pole vault, long jump, and triple jump to win their first-ever MEAC Indoor Track and Field Championships. Returning to help defend their crowns are Madelein Akobundu, India Brown, Morgan Knight and Kayla White.
“On the women’s side, we are very strong with those returners so I am looking forward to what they can do this year especially on a national scene,” said Ross.
Brown and White will lead the sprinters while Knight and Akobundu are the top two returners amongst the field events. Brown won the 200m, placed third in the 60m and was a part of the 4x400 relay during the MEAC indoor championships. White is the two-time defending 60mh champion in the MEAC. Last season at the JDL Fast Track, Knight ran a personal-best 8.27.
Knight is the MEAC indoor record holder in the pole vault, setting the record for the third time with a vault of 11-feet, 6 ½ inches last February in Landover, Md. She is also a key runner for the Aggies. She was third at the conference championships in the 60mh. Her top career time in the 60mh is 8.27 ran in 2016 at the Armory Track Invitational.
Akobundu won the women’s long jump and was second in the 60mh at the MEAC Indoor Championships. Akobundu’s best long jump was 19-feet, 6-inches at the Camel City Invitational on Feb. 3, 2017.
Freshmen Paula Salmon (Brooklyn, N.Y./Clara Barton HS) and Payton Russell (Spencer, N.C./ North Rowan HS) are headlining the women’s recruiting class. Salmon ran a top-10 time in the nation in the indoor 60mh last season. Russell is an in-state recruit that is a powerful 400m runner and was named Rowan County Female Track and Field Athlete of the Year as a sophomore, junior and senior.
If the Aggie men and women can win both indoor titles they will make history as the first program to do it in back-to-back seasons.