COURTESY: A&T Athletics
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – North Carolina A&T men’s indoor track and field senior star Trevor Stewart understands something very clearly.
North Carolina A&T State University is an HBCU (historically black college or university). Therefore, no matter what the team accomplishes during the regular season, they go to meets like the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships at the University of Arkansas’s Randal Tyson Track Center, underestimated.
Even when they win at NCAA nationals, it is credited as an anomaly. Unfair? Perhaps. But Stewart loves every aspect of it.
On Saturday, Stewart and sophomore Randolph Ross, Jr., senior Elijah Young and junior Daniel Stokes won the NCAA indoor national championship in the 4×400-meter relay to give the men’s program (indoor or outdoor) its first-ever national championship.
“People are always going to discredit us no matter what we do,” said Stewart. “It boils down to we’re an HBCU. We’re not supposed to be doing this. It almost forces us to do it bigger and better. But we’re fine with that. It makes us better people, and it prepares us for life after college. Bigger and better is what the world is going to expect from us too.”
A&T’s 4×400 team certainly did it big and better on Saturday. The foursome ran a 3:03.16, the fifth-fastest time in NCAA history, to outlast the University of Kentucky’s 3:03.61. The Aggies are the first HBCU to win an NCAA indoor title in the 4×400 since Morgan State won in back-to-back years in 1965 and ’66, the first two years of the NCAA indoor championships.
In addition to winning the 4×400, Ross Jr. finished second nationally in the 400 meters by running a blazing 44.99 to establish a new personal record. Ross Jr.’s time is the eighth-fastest in NCAA history. Stewart finished seventh in the 400m in 45.83.
The Aggies had a fourth-place finish in the men’s 60m as senior Tavarius Wright crossed the finish line in 6.65. On Friday, he ran a personal-best 6.56 in 60m semifinals. Freshman Javonte Harding also had a fourth-place finish. He finished fourth in the men’s 200m with a personal-best 20.39. Junior Delecia McDuffie finished seventh in the women’s 200m with a time of 23.01.
Stewart, Young, Strokes, Wright, Harding and McDuffie will all earn first-team All-American honors. Ross Jr., will earn two first-team All-American recognitions.
But it was the 4×400 that continued to help A&T shakeup the track and field world. Two years after Kayla White won the Aggies first-ever NCAA national title in any sport by winning the women’s indoor 200m title, the 4×400 men put an even bigger dent in the glass ceiling. They served notice that an elite track and field program resides on the east side of Greensboro, N.C. The Aggies didn’t get a chance to win a national indoor title in 2020 because the championships were canceled because of the COVID pandemic.
“We want to keep proving that it can be done right here at North Carolina A&T,” said Duane Ross, the Aggies director of track and field programs.
Ross Jr. ran the first leg and ran a 45.68 split. Stokes took the lead on the second leg, but Kentucky gained ground on leg No. 2. Kentucky took the lead early in the third leg as Young took over for the Aggies next. Georgia and Tennessee joined the competitive mix in the third leg as well.
But Georgia started to fade, and Young started to approach first place as he handed off the baton to the anchor leg, powered by Stewart. Stewart eventually found himself in third place but kicked into his high gear around the final lap’s backstretch.
Once he did, it was clear Ross had another event national title for his program.
“We knew Kentucky would challenge us. We knew Georgia would challenge us,” said Ross. “We also knew if our handoffs were clean and we got through the zone without bumping and fighting; we were going to win. I would go to war with these guys. That’s how much confidence I have in them.”
The Aggies did all of this without the benefit of a conference championship meet, which the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) canceled late last year. That certainly influenced the Aggies seeding going into nationals as other athletes could improve their times at their respective conference meets.
The most affected may have been Ross Jr., who did not get the coveted fifth or sixth lanes on the track. Despite that, he still had the third-fastest qualifying time in the 400m, even though that prevented him from having the fifth or sixth lane assignment.
Despite that, Ross set the standard in his heat with his 44.99. LSU’s Noah Williams had to have a career race to beat Ross Jr.’s time, and he did by running a 44.71.
“Junior didn’t come up short; he just didn’t run in the same race as the LSU young man,” said Ross. “Junior did exactly what he needed to do, but kudos to LSU for doing what they had to do. I think it may have been a different story if they were running in the same race, but hey, that’s indoor.
Outdoor is very different. We will be able to have everyone in the same race, and it’s only one lap.”
Speaking of the outdoor track and field season, it is already on the mind. A&T finished fifth nationally with a handful of student-athletes in Arkansas. They are jazzed up about where they can finish with the many more student-athletes they expect to qualify for outdoor nationals, where they plan to do it even bigger and better.
“The message we sent today was to the rest of our team,” said Ross. “Let’s win this.”