NCCU group confident heading to NCAA Regionals

Confidence is something that can grow as the season goes along, no doubt about it. North Carolina Central track & field coach T.J. Walker sees confidence beaming from his group of student-athletes who are headed to Lexington, Kentucky for the NCAA East Preliminary Championships.

Redshirt freshman high jumper Omega Smalls, and the men’s 400 relay team of Petey Williams, Deontae Williams, Blake Hartsfield and Isaac Roberts, will represent the Eagles at the event, which begins Thursday.

The 400 team advancing marks the first time an N.C. Central relay team has qualified for the regionals since the Eagles made the switch to Division I in 2011. Smalls, a native of North Charleston, South Carolina, jumped a personal-best 6-11, finishing second at the MEAC championships in Greensboro. The men’s relay team finished fourth, with a time of 40.91. At this point of the season, peak season as Walker points out, all of the athletes are healthy and very confident. That confidence has grown, not only with the production at the events, but also in how they prepare each day at practice.

“Confidence doesn’t begin and end on meet day,” Walker said. “Confidence is what you attain Monday through Friday in your preparation. I’ve always preached that. By the time we get to the competition we understand where we are and we are fully prepared.”

Last month at the Penn Relays the 400 relay team performed well on the big stage, with a season-best time of 40.26. Smalls has not looked the part of a first-year performer, getting better, and more confident, each week.

“Omega, this is his first year on the track and we haven’t had a student-athlete in his first year qualify for regionals,” Walker said. “This is an awesome accomplishment. He has a bright future ahead of him. His dedication has carried over to the track. His level of maturation is almost that of an upperclassmen. We’re excited about Omega.”

The opportunity, for all five participants, is just the next step towards a bigger goal. Prior to the start of the outdoor season, Williams said the big picture goal was to make it to nationals. First things first - take care of business in Kentucky. Walker said advancing to Kentucky is “tremendous” but just showing won’t be good enough for the Eagles.

“Our goal is not to stop here,” Walker said. “We have done some tremendous things this year. Our talent is not showing and that’s a wonderful thing, but our ultimate goal is to matriculate to the NCAA National Championships. We want to not only go there, but we want to compete and compete well. It’s an awesome achievement, but we’re not finish.”

The top 12 finishers in both events advance to the National Championships in Oregon, which will be held June 7-10.

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV