Aggies send 13 athletes to NCAA NationalsCourtesy NC A&T Sports Information / June 1, 2017
LEXINGTON, KY. – North Carolina A&T Aggies will roll into the NCAA Division I Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., in record fashion after completing a historic NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round.
Approximately 13 of the university’s record 20 athletes sent to the East Prelims will head to the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, June 7-10 for the NCAA Championships. Over the past three days, the Aggies have broken numerous school records. Saturday was another superb day of qualifying. The Aggies will have more representation than any other North Carolina institution at the NCAA Championships in two weeks. They will also send more athletes to the NCAA Nationals than any other HBCU in history.
The men’s 4×100 meter relay team consisting of seniors Chris Belcher, Caleb Gabriel and junior Rodney Rower and freshman Jaylen Mitchell nearly took the top qualifying time for the East to Oregon with them, but were defeated by a narrow margin by Auburn (38.74) and LSU (38.75) to finish third in 38.76. The top 12 times advance to NCAA Nationals. The foursome’s time broke the university’s record of 39.44 seconds, set during this season’s MEAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships at N.C. A&T’s Irwin Belk Track. It was the same runners except junior Joel Thomas ran instead of Mitchell. “Man, they looked awesome today,” said N.C. A&T director of track and field programs, Duane Ross. “They were right there until the end, but LSU got us at the line.”
The women’s 4×1 was also impressive. Junior India Brown, sophomores Yakira Love and Kayla White and freshman Taliyah Townsend sprinted to a school record as they qualified for nationals with the tenth-best time (44.01). The previous record was established at the 2017 Aggie Invitational when the same runners except Love ran on Friday instead of Tori Ray.
One more Aggie relay team saw success on Saturday when the 4×4 team qualified for nationals breaking another university record. Senior Dorian Claggett, junior Dajuan Harding, sophomore Justin Hamilton and freshman Najee Reams completed the 4×4 in 3:06.14 to be the 11th team out of 12 to qualify. They finished ahead of Clemson and Florida State to qualify. Saturday’s 4×4 team out did itself as the same four guys held the previous record which was 3:07.32 recorded at the 2017 MEAC Outdoor Championships.
Belcher and Brown will represent the Aggies in three different events in Eugene. Both qualified on the men’s and women’s side in the 200 meters. A day after running the fastest qualifying time to reach the quarterfinals with a university-record 20.06 seconds, Belcher qualified for nationals in 20.31. Brown also pulled off a trifecta by finishing her 200m race in 22.92 seconds to break her own school record of 22.98 recorded at the Tom Jones Memorial hosted by the University of Florida on April 28.
There were mixed reviews for the Aggies in the hurdles on Saturday. Kayla White is headed to nationals in the 100-meter hurdles as she qualified in 13.18 seconds a day after breaking the school record by running 12.94. White broke an 8-year old record set by Loreal Smith at 12.97 seconds. White will try to become the Aggies first All-American in the 100mh since Smith in 2009. White had the sixth-fastest qualifying time on Saturday. The Aggies 110mh participants on Saturday – sophomore Michael Dickson and senior TeQuille Jackson – failed to qualify as both men could not reach the Top-12.
N.C. A&T’s representation at the NCAA Championships will be off the track as well. Sophomore Lasheon Strozier qualified in the men’s triple jump with a personal-record 51-feet, 10 ½-inch jump. It surpassed his previous best which was 51-feet, 10-inches at the Duke Invitational on April 21. Strozier will be the first Aggie triple jumper since Brandon Via in 2006 to compete at the NCAA Nationals.
“This year we did a good job of putting them in meets where they saw some of the same competition they saw this weekend,” said Ross. “Our administration fully backed us in taking them down to (the University of) Florida and Georgia and putting them against tough competition so that when they are competing at regionals, when they are competing at nationals, it’s nothing new.”
NCAA Division I Track and Field Championship Qualifiers
Men’s 100m – Chris Belcher; Women’s 100m – India Brown; Men’s 200m – Chris Belcher; Women’s 200m – India Brown; Men’s 400m – Dajuan Harding; Women’s 100mh – Kayla White; Men’s 4×100 – Jaylen Mitchell, Belcher, Caleb Gabriel and Rodney Rowe; Women’s 4×100 – Yakira Love, Brown, Taliyah Townsend and White; Men’s 4×400 – Justin Hamilton, Dorian Claggett, Najee Reams and Dajuan Harding; Men’s Triple Jump – Lasheon Strozier.