Prep track: Mitchell signs with UNC Pembroke
By Mike London
SPENCER ó Friendship led to a scholarship for North Rowan graduate Diricka Mitchell.
Mitchell will attend UNC Pembroke this fall on a track and field ride, but her athletic talent lay dormant until she was in the 10th grade.
“I actually didn’t do track until the outdoor season of my sophomore year,” Mitchell said. “I went out there mostly because friends like Roneisha Steele and Tyesha Torrence telling me how much fun they were having competing in track. There were also guys like Phillip Bush and Malcolm McMillon telling me how much the girls team needed some throwers.”
Mitchell wasn’t an overnight success, but with work and coaching she became North’s best thrower. She gave the discus a whirl, but most of her strides came in the shot put.
“I guess,” Mitchell said modestly, “I ended up being pretty good at that event.”
In the winter of her junior year, Mitchell found herself in the unusual position of being North’s only female qualifier for the 1A/2A/3A state indoor championships.
She threw a modest 29 feet, 11/2 inches and finished in 20th place. But it was a start.
“That was weird being the only one from my school,” she said. “But that’s also the time when I started feeling like I could do well at track.”
In the spring of 2008, Mitchell went outdoors and threw 30-10. She was ninth in the 2A Midwest Regional.
That throw was the springboard to a senior year that was successful on many levels.
Mitchell did well in the classroom and served as student body president.
She was a proud of an initiative that led to a “Dress for Success” program that encouraged students to dress their best on Wednesdays.
“It was good for us to get used to dressing like professionals,” Mitchell said.
When she was dressed in her green track uniform, she also impressed.
Competing in the Eastern High School Challenge in Chapel Hill in January, Mitchell flung the shot 34-31/2 to finish sixth in a strong field.
In February’s state indoor meet, she slipped back to 32-51/2, but she still placed ninth, 11 spots higher than the previous year.
In her final outdoor season, she helped the Cavalier girls, who were bolstered considerably by the addition of freshman sensation Teaunna Cuthbertson, return to prominence in the county, region and state.
“Diricka is very competitive and has been a great team member for years,” Hall of Fame coach Robert Steele said.
North has long been an elite track school, dating all the way back to the Burton Barger Era when North’s boys performed well ahead of their time and won three consecutive WNCHSAA titles from 1965-67.
Over the past 15 years, Steele, Brian Mills and Matt Price have propelled North to track feats unmatched by any school in the state.
North has won 14 boys NCHSAA championships ó five indoors, even though the Cavaliers went head-to-head with 4A schools for many years ó and nine outdoor titles.
North’s girls have contributed three outdoor titles and the 1999 indoor state championship to the school’s daunting track legacy.
Mitchell had the opportunity to watch her school rally a long way from that lonely day at the 2008 state indoor meet when she was the only Cavalier girl participating.
Mitchell’s second-place finish this spring in the shot (32-11) helped North win the Rowan County Meet for the first time in five years. North edged a strong Salisbury squad by a single point.
Mitchell was All-Central Carolina Conference, finishing second to Salisbury standout Alisha Bradshaw with her best throw yet ó 35-9 ó in the CCC Meet.
Mitchell placed third in the Midwest Regional (35-1) and helped North finish second to Salisbury. Then she was ninth in the state outdoor meet (34-41/2) as North returned to being a factor statewide. The Cavs tied for seventh overall.
“I was seeded higher at states, but I didn’t do quite as well as I was capable,” Mitchell said. “Everyone has their bad days.”
Mitchell’s bad days are good ones for most, and she caught the eye of Larry Rodgers, who has guided UNC Pembroke’s track and cross country programs for 28 seasons. UNC Pembroke’s track teams are annually among the best in the region and are usually on the national radar.
“UNC Pembroke is the school I always wanted to go to,” Mitchell said. “Coach Rodgers contacted me and told me the things I needed to do athletically and as far as keeping up my grades to get a scholarship there. I kept setting high goals for myself, and I reached them.”
Rodgers sees Mitchell adding a new event in college ó the hammer throw ó and is looking forward to her tossing the shot and the hammer for his program.
“Diricka is a very talented thrower and a positive addition,” Rodgers said. “She comes highly recommended by Coach Steele, and that speaks to her character and her potential for success at the college level.”