EAST GREENSBORO – Florida A&M has proven to be a formidable opponent for the North Carolina A&T women’s outdoor track and field team over the past two years at the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Outdoor Track and Field Championships. They would prove the same at this year’s outdoor conference championships held at N.C. A&T’s Irwin Belk Track.
It was the Rattlers who prevented the Aggies from repeating last season, and it was the Rattlers who led by more than 100 points after the first two events were scored on Saturday during the final day of the championships.
N.C. A&T overcame the deficit by scoring some unexpected points in the field events early before dominating the competition on the track. The Aggie women won seven events on Saturday and claimed gold, silver and bronze in two of those events to stage the comeback.
The Aggie women posted 198.5 points to outlast the Rattlers’ 189.5. Bethune-Cookman (116), Howard (67) and Norfolk State (65) rounded out the top-5 on the women’s side. For the second straight season, senior Kayla White was named the meet’s most outstanding runner.
“To see us fight back the way we did was the highlight of my weekend,” said Duane Ross, the Aggies director of track and field programs. “I was sitting around calculating in my head how in the world are we going to make up all those points. But winning the pole vault got our team going. By the time the sprinters and distance runners hit the track, it was a snowball effect. We were off and running.”
White ran an NCAA-best 10.96 to win the 100 meters. According to the United States Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association, it was the fifth-fastest collegiate time ever. White also ran an NCAA-best 22.52 to win the 200. White was also a part of the Aggies 4x100 championship team.
“After the 100 meters I knew we were going to win,” said Ross. “We had a few events left, but just to see the momentum and how they were focused, I felt good about what we were doing. I knew we would pull it out.”
Ross also had a good vibe when he saw junior Tori Ray bounce back from her disappointment in the 400 last year to win with a time of 52.73.
Junior Madeleine Akobundu won the 100-meter hurdles in 12.81 and was surrounded at the podium by junior teammate TeJyrica Robinson (12.98) who finished second and freshman teammate Paula Salmon (13.35) who came in third. N.C. A&T also populated the awards stand in the 200 as White was followed by freshman Cambrea Sturgis (22.62) and freshman Kamaya Debose-Epps (23.14).
“Kayla was a huge part of us coming back because our younger athletes follow her,” said Ross. “When you’re at this level you have to be mindful of the things you say and the things you do because they’re watching even when you don’t think they’re watching. For them to see her still working hard helps them learn all the right things to do.”
But it was junior Jayne Roberts who got the Aggies rolling on Saturday by winning the women’s pole vault with her best vault recorded at 11-feet, 9 ¼-inches. The Aggies then had Gabrielle Ryan score in the javelin by finishing fourth place (104-feet, 4-inches) to give the Aggies points they were not expecting.
The Aggies women now have won two of the last three outdoor conference titles and three straight MEAC indoor titles. There is no reason to believe the winning will stop. The Aggies lose White after this season, but they return numerous freshmen and juniors next season along with a strong recruiting class coming to AggieLand.
“I think there is a chance to get caught up in complacency when you call yourself a dynasty, so I don’t want to go there,” said Ross. “But I think we’re at the point where we can say that’s what we’re building toward.”
First-Team All-MEAC: Jayne Roberts (pole vault); Madeleine Akobundu (long jump, 100mh); Kayla White (100m, 200m, 4x100); Tori Ray (400m, 4x400); 4x100); Cambrea Sturgis (4x100); Taliyah Townsend (4x100); Kamaya Debose-Epps (4x100); Sun-Sara Williams (4x400); Kristoni Barnes (4x400); Nilaja Florence (4x400); G’Jasmyne Butler (3,000m steeplechase).
Second-Team All-MEAC: Paula Salmon (high jump, 400mh); Loren James (shot put); Cambrea Sturgis (200m); TeJyrica Robinson (100mh); Kristoni Barnes (800m).
Third-Team All-MEAC: Nazah Reddick (high jump); Cambrea Sturgis (100m); Kamaya Debose-Epps (200m); Sun-Sara Williams (400m); Paula Salmon (100mh); Nilaja Florence (400mh).