Salmon, Nwokocha, McDuffie are Oregon boundCourtesy A&T Athletics / June 4, 2022
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BLOOMINGTON, IN. – The belief inside the North Carolina A&T outdoor track and field camp is that senior Paula Salmon can do it.
She can win an NCAA national championship in the 100-meter hurdles. Salmon has done nothing to dissuade that notion during the 2022 season, including Saturday evening during the final day of the 2022 NCAA East Preliminary Round at Indiana University’s Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex.
The ladies closed out the regional as those who qualified on Saturday are headed to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., June 8-11.
Salmon and freshman teammate Grace Nwokocha, who qualified for nationals in the 100 and 200 meters, will be there along with senior 400m runner Delecia McDuffie.
“Paula has been consistent all year,” said Duane Ross, North Carolina A&T’s track and field programs director. “These last weeks have been extremely exciting as we believe she can run 12.40.”
On Saturday, nothing she did made anyone believe she could not get to 12.40. Salmon stepped on the track for the third heat of the 100H. After the gun went off, she glided over every hurdle like gravity ceased to exist for that moment.
Salmon completed her race in 12.78, well ahead of second-place Trishauna Hemmings of Clemson (13.13). It was the fastest quarterfinal time on the day, and she ran it despite facing a challenging wind.
In the 10 100H races Salmon has competed in this season, she has finished under 13 seconds every time except once. Her best career time also came this season, a 12.63 on April 16 at the University of Florida. Therefore the momentum is there to run 12.40. And after a did not finish result in the 60H at NCAA indoor nationals, the motivation is there.
Salmon is not the only Aggie who looked motivated. Nwokocha posted the third-fastest 100m quarterfinal by winning her heat in 11.17. If Nwokocha finishes in the top-8 nationally, she will become the first Aggie woman to earn first-team All-American honors as a freshman in the 100m.
One of the sprinters she will receive tough competition from in the 100 and 200 is Kentucky’s Abby Steiner, who ran an 11.04 to win the 100m’s second heat on Saturday. Steiner and Nwokocha ran in the same heat of the 200, where Steiner finished first with a season-best 22.01. Nwokocha, meanwhile, ran a personal-best 22.45.
McDuffie finished top-3 in her heat to enter nationals as an automatic qualifier like her teammates. McDuffie ran a personal-best 51.58, finishing third in her heat and sixth overall on Saturday. McDuffie, Nwokocha and Salmon all won Big South Conference championships in the same events they qualified for on Saturday.
Big South high jump champion Nazah Reddick and Big South runner-up Kenady Wilson did their best to make nationals. It came down to a jump-off to determine the 12th and final spot from the East, with Reddick and Wilson among several competitors who jumped 5-feet, 11 1/4-inches. Mahogany Jenkins from the host school, Indiana University, earned the spot.