Photos: The A&T men receiving awards from Jacque' Kendell at the 2013 Challenge. Below, Coach Ross and the team trophy from last year.
When one has thought of the relationship between the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation and North Carolina A&T State University in the past, the first thing that comes to mind has been that the latter’s track and field facility hosts the former’s New Balance Nationals Outdoor championship each June.
But now the Aggies are making a big impact on another NSAF event.
Last fall, the A&T State men broke the long streak of Norfolk State in the Robert Shumake HBCU Challenge and became the 2nd school to earn a men’s title in the event, winning the D1 (and overall) standings in the 5th annual running of the competition – now called the Shumake/Walker HBCU Challenge, also honoring the NSAF’s late Cedric Walker, who originally got the event up and running back in 2009.
Anyway, the Aggies have a renewed spirit on campus with their harriers, building on the leadership, coaching and direction provided by Duane Ross, the Director of Track and Field Programs at A&T, as well as that of Coach Perry Cabean. They returned Saeed Jones and Darren White, the 1-2 punch that placed 2-3 to lead the Aggie charge in 2013, and are off to a solid start in 2014.
Here’s Coach Ross on the team’s prospects:
On the motivation of the team to come back to Cary and defend its title here: We are very excited about coming back to the HBCU Challenge. Any time a team is considered to be "defending" a title, it normally means that team is or is becoming a championship team. This is definitely one of the highlights of this season. We've been talking about this meet since the season began. It has been my intention to build a championship dynasty here since I came to NCAT and it begins with winning meets like this consistently.
On the leadership of returning standouts Jones and White: Darren and Saeed are the heart of this team. It's been a tremendous honor watching them grow as students and young men. To watch their races develop over the last year has been exciting. Darren has been more consistent in his training and Saeed has been able to fine-tune the small things needed to be successful in races like this.
On #3 man Perry Cabean closing the gap with his teammates: Perry is getting closer to Darren and Saeed. Their training levels are closer now than they were at the beginning of the season, and because of that we have them training together more consistently. During races they stay together about 70 percent of time, which is definitely beneficial to our team scoring.
On the Aggie #4-7 runners closing the gap: Our 4th-7th runners are all freshman, and while we're working on closing the gap, the biggest thing for them right now is training them at a high aerobic base. They are your typical middle distance runners that happen to be talented and athletic enough to run 5 miles. The goal is to have them running 5 miles at the same intensity as Saeed, Darren and Perry before our conference championships.
On what the team is shooting for this season beyond the Challenge: Winning the MEAC and having a good showing at the NCAA Regional Championship are our biggest goals this season. We're intent on building a successful distance program here at NCAT and winning the HBCU Challenge, MEAC, and competing well at Regionals will keep us on that path.