Aggie Pride Extends to The MEAC at NCAA Nationals
EUGENE, ORE. (June 7, 2017) – The North Carolina A&T men's and women's track and field teams are in Eugene, Ore., for the 2017 NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships looking to not only represent Aggie Pride, but also their conference, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Nine Aggie men qualified for the NCAA championships along with four female Aggies. The men begin competition today with seniors Caleb Gabriel and Chris Belcher and sophomore Rodney Rowe and freshman Jaylen Mitchell combining to compete in the 4x100-meter relay semifinals at 7:32 p.m., eastern standard time.
Seventy-five minutes later, Belcher will go solo as he will compete in the 100 meters before junior Dajuan Harding competes in the 400m at 9 p.m., EST. Belcher will return to the track at 9:44 for the 200m and Harding will return to the track for the final event of the day, the 4x4, at 10:48. The Aggies other male athlete qualifier, triple jumper Lasheon Strozier, will start his quest for an individual national title on Friday when he competes at 8:40 p.m., EST. With that many opportunities for a non-Power 5 conference school (SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12) to have success, director of track and field programs Duane Ross hopes it will put to rest some misconceptions about the league his athletes compete in.
“When you talk about college athletics, all the talk centers around schools from the Power 5 conferences,” said Ross, who is a member of the Clemson University Athletic Hall of Fame as a championship hurdler. “What they fail to realize is conferences like the MEAC, while we will never be completely dominant, if you take a closer look and see some of the individual athletes on these teams, it's a special conference. There are some special athletes on these teams, and I hope we can shine a spotlight on that.”
Ross will put his ladies on the track on Thursday. Junior India Brown, sophomores Kayla White and Yakira Love and freshman Taliyah Townsend start the day with the 4x1 at 7:32 p.m., EST. White comes back an hour later to compete in the 100-meter hurdles where she recently shattered a nine-year old school record by running a 12.94 at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round. Fifteen minutes later, Brown comes to the track to compete in the 100m. Brown will finish the day by competing in the 200m at 9:44 p.m.
In individual and relay races, the top 2 finishers in each of the three heats will advance to the finals along with the next best two times. If any of the Aggies finish among the top-16 competitors, they will be deemed second-team All-Americans. If they reach the finals, they will earn first-team All-America honors. The Aggie men have not had an individual earn first-team All-American since Desmond Lawrence did it in the 100m in 2014. The women are looking for their first, first-team All-American since Alexandria Spruill (400m) and Loreal Smith (100mh) both got there in 2009.
N.C. A&T men's track and field have had five first-team All-Americans in school history while the women have had two. Both teams could eclipse that this weekend. The other MEAC performers include Bethune-Cookman's Michael Tiller in the men's triple jump, Hampton's Jaelen Williams in the men's 400mh and Maryland Eastern Shore's Khalil Rmidi Kinini in the men's 3000m steeplechase.
“My goal is turn the NCAA upside down on its head,” said Ross. “I tell my kids to be in the business of making history, be in the business of changing things. MEAC coaches work their butts off, and even though we don't have the resources some of these Power 5 conferences have, some of these coaches are the best I've been around. If we can be successful, I think it will put a magnifying glass on our entire conference where the rest of the country starts taking our conference a little more seriously. If we're going to change things we have to be mentally prepared. I know we're physically prepared.”