JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two ladies with one last opportunity each at national glory earned that opportunity on Saturday night by qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships during the final day of the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round at the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium. North Carolina A&T women’s outdoor track and field graduate Paula Salmon aced through the East prelims to guarantee a bid to NCAA nationals in the 100-meter hurdles by running a 12.79. Two events later, graduate Jada Griffin, qualified in the 400 meters by putting up a 52.61 for third place in Heat 3.
Even though Salmon and Griffin will be in Austin, Texas, at the University of Texas’s Mike A. Myers Stadium, June 7-10, their paths in getting there were very different. Paula Salmon is at the same school where she had previous success but with a different coach. Griffin is there with a new school but the same coach she had previously throughout her career.
Paula Salmon is making a three-peat at outdoor nationals after earning second-team All-America accolades in 2021 in the 100H and first-team recognition in 2022 by finishing fourth nationally. Those accomplishments occurred under former North Carolina A&T director of track and field programs, Duane Ross, before he took an opportunity at another school. It left Salmon, who has already overcome many obstacles in her life, with another challenge.
“This journey was really challenging with a new coach coming in,” said Salmon. “It was all about trusting the process along the way. My indoor season did not go as planned, and most of my outdoor season didn’t go as planned. But I continued to trust the process, and when it mattered the most, that’s when I was able to run the time I was supposed to all season.”
In her final indoor conference meet, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) indoor championships, Salmon was disqualified in the 60H final. After going into her last outdoor season with a personal-best 12.63 in the 100H, she had not run under 13 seconds until Thursday night when she ran a 12.75 in the first round of the NCAA East prelim.
She followed that up with another sub-13 second time on Saturday. Salmon is now after something that eluded her the first two times she traveled to the NCAA championships, a national title.
“I’m extremely excited,” said Salmon about returning to nationals. “Seeing my results today, I know I can do better, so I’m going to prepare and focus on what I need to focus on. Then, when it’s time for nationals, that’s when I’m going to put everything together and execute and hopefully win a national title.”
Allen Johnson, an assistant at North Carolina State University (NCSU) for six seasons, became the North Carolina A&T director of track and field on June 17, 2022. Months later, Griffin followed, transferring from NCSU to Aggieland. She immediately impacted the Aggies’ women’s program, earning the CAA’s most outstanding women’s track performer at the conference’s indoor and outdoor meets.
Jada Griffin also earned CAA Women’s Indoor Athlete of the Year, and three weeks ago, she became a social media sensation when the world got to see her run an incredible 4×400-meter relay anchor leg at the CAA outdoor championships to lead the Aggies to the win.
“When I first got to NCAT, I was nervous because it was a new school even though I was running for the same coach,” said Griffin. “But I still felt like I had a lot to prove because it’s my last year, so I worked super hard trying to prove I can do this with a new school.”
The new uniform with a different logo did wonders for Griffin. Reaching nationals is a cherry on top for Griffin’s career as she will be making her first trip to NCAA nationals as an individual. “I am super excited. I’ve never run at an outdoor nationals,” said Griffin. “It feels good knowing I got here.”
Although Jada Griffin made another appearance in the 4×400 quarterfinals, she and the relay team did not advance through. With a time of 3:42.32, Griffin, Fajr Kelly, MyKayla Perry and Pebbles Scott finished seventh in Heat 1 and 21st overall.
After Saturday, six Aggies head to Austin next month. In addition to Salmon and Griffin, the men will send Reheem Hayles and Shemar Chambers for the 400m. They will also join Brandon Nya and Caleb Jackson for the 4×400. The Aggies will compete for a men’s 4×400 national championship for the sixth straight season.