North Carolina A&T will roll into the NCAA Division I Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., in record fashion after completing an historic NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round for an HBCU.
The Aggies will send 13 athletes to the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, June 7-10 for the NCAA championships. Over the three days of the East Preliminaries, the Aggies took down numerous school records and 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. Prairie View A&M and Alabama State will send five athletes followed by one each from Maryland Eastern Shore, Hampton and Bethune-Cookman.
The A&T men’s 4×100 meter relay team consisting of seniors Chris Belcher, Caleb Gabriel, junior Rodney Rower and freshman Jaylen Mitchell nearly took the top qualifying time for the East Preliminaries but was 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 school record of 39.44, 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 save for junior Joel Thomas ran instead of Mitchell.
The women’s 4×100 team 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 10th-best time (44.01). One more Aggies’ relay team saw success on Saturday when the 4×400 team qualified for nationals with a school-record time. Senior Dorian Claggett, junior Dajuan Harding, sophomore Justin Hamilton and freshman Najee Reams completed ran 3:06.14 to be the 11th team out of 12 to qualify finishing ahead of Clemson and Florida State.
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 school-record 20.06, Belcher qualified for nationals in 20.31. Brown also pulled off a trifecta by finishing her 200 meter race in 22.92 to break her own school record of 22.98 recorded at the Tom Jones Memorial hosted by the University of Florida on April 28.
White is headed to nationals in the 100-meter hurdles as she qualified in 13.18 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. White had the sixth-fastest qualifying time on Saturday. Also for A&T, sophomore Lasheon Strozier qualified in the men’s triple jump with a personal-record 51-feet, 10 ½-inch jump.
During the third and final day of the East Regional, Alabama State’s men’s 4×100 meter relay team (Josh Davis, Justin Davis, Kevin Sprains and Devin O’Neal) finished top-three in their heat, earring an automatic qualifying bid to nationals. They will join long jumper Jamie Brown who used a 7.58 meter (24-10½) to finish eighth overall.
Prairie View A&M junior Deonca Bookman qualified with a season best time of 57.84 in the 400 meter hurdles on Friday in the NCAA West Regionals at the University of Texas. Bookman finished third. PVAM’s men’s 4×100 relay team broke the previous school record posting a time of 39.34 to also clinch a berth. The team of Keon Campbell, Samuel Omoera, William Polley and Carl Jordan posted the record-setting time.
Hampton freshman Jaelen Williams qualified on Friday night as he finished seventh overall in the 400 meter hurdles in 50.32. Williams won his heat to automatically qualify for the championship.
Bethune-Cookman’s Michael Tiller won the triple jump Saturday at the East Regional with his final leap of 53 feet, 7 inches breaking the B-CU record of 53 feet, 1 inch set by Louis Brown at the 2006 Penn Relays. This will be Tiller’s first appearance at the NCAA outdoor championships.
With a school record setting time of 8:46.62 in the 3000 meter steeplechase, Maryland Eastern Shore senior Khalil Rmidi Kinini advanced. Kinini placed ninth at the NCAA East Preliminaries earning one of the 12 top spots needed to advance.
With his ninth place finish this year, he becomes the first Hawk since Gayon Evans in 2014 to advance this far during the outdoor season. He also will become the first HBCU representative to compete in the 3000 steeplechase at nationals.