Jan. 8, 2008
WACO, Texas -
The Baylor track and field and cross country teams are never satisfied. After an exceptional year in 2006-07 that saw records fall and national champions crowned, the Bears are not content put the switch on cruise control. Head coach Todd Harbour and his coaching staff have established lofty goals and challenged the team to continue improving.
"Our goal this year is to be in the top-15 in everything: indoor and outdoor track and field and cross country," said Harbour. "That is our bottom-line goal. Of course we would like to be higher than that, but that is the minimum standard that we have set for our athletes. We expect excellence in every aspect of our teams. We want to have that kind of success this season and we think that we have the type of team that can do it."
While the goals seem lofty at first glance, the men's track and field team recorded a 10th and 15th place finish in 2007 at the indoor and outdoor championships, and the women's cross country team qualified for the NCAA Championships for the fourth consecutive season and returns its deepest team ever.
Added to those results from last season is a recruiting class on both the men's and women's teams that should be solid point contributors at both the Big 12 and NCAA Championships.
The women's sprint crew will have a balance of upperclassmen and freshmen. Carla Grace will lead the corps in the 100 and 200 meters, earning All-Big 12 honors in each race in 2007. Katrina Taylor and Tiana Hood are two other veterans who will need to take on a leadership role among the sprinters.
"We have a good mix of girls in our sprints, with the upperclassmen that we have back and their experience and the new girls that we brought in," said Harbour. "Carla Grace
will be a great leader for us this season and has a lot of experience at Big 12 and NCAA meets. Katrina Taylor
has gotten better each year and will give us a great leg on the 4x400. Tiana Hood
runs about as good of a third leg on the sprint relay as anyone in the country, so we will expect a lot from these ladies this season."
Baylor also adds the top female sprinter in the nation in Tiffany Townsend, who ranked first among high school runners in the 100 and 200 meters. Brittany Carr, a USATF Junior Olympic national champion, and Brittany Bruce, an AAU national champion, should also make an immediate impact.
The 2007 outdoor season marked a banner year for the middle distance runners, as a trio of athletes combined for seven school record performances and seven of the top 10 marks in the 800 meters. Nichole Jones led the way for the Lady Bears with school records in the indoor 1,000 meters and outdoor 800 meters as well as anchor legs on the outdoor distance medley relay and 4x800-meter relays on her way to earning consensus Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors.
Lauren Hagans will also be counted on to lead the middle distance squad after earning All-Big 12, all-region and All-American honors last season. While Jones and Hagans each had success in the 800 meters in 2007, both could also race in the 1,500 meters as well.
"We hope to have the same success in the 800 this year, but maybe with some new faces," said Harbour. "We could move Nichole Jones and Lauren Hagans up to the 1,500, and Erin (Bedell) could possibly move up as well. That's another one of our goals is to be well represented not only in the 800 but also the 1,500."
Similar to its strength in cross country, Baylor will rely on depth this season, moving runners into different races to gain the best team advantage. With Bedell, as well as Loren Hodges, healthy for 2008, and expecting contributions from its talented freshmen, Baylor will look to be among the Big 12 leaders in the middle distance and distance events.
"We have a lot of depth and we are excited about it," said Harbour. "We had a lot of success last year and then only lost one middle distance runner. And now we have a healthy Erin Bedell back. What was amazing about our success last season is that we did it all without Erin. Now we bring her back into the mix along with a healthy Loren Hodges and some good freshmen in Leigh Ann Ganzar and Lauren Simpson, and we have four more into the mix from last year's group.
"Kathryn Benvegnu has been running really well and will run cross country for us this season; she was all-conference for us last year during indoor. I think that Lyndsy Bedell will get back on track in the steeplechase, where we have had a lot of success, and Renae Van Wyhe can step up this year and really be counted on in the 10,000."
Along with its success in the middle distance in 2007, Baylor had great individual success in the field events as Brittany Devereaux and Kaleigh Teel had record breaking performances. Devereaux, who holds the 10 best marks in the discus, set new school records in the discus and hammer throw in consecutive days at the Stanford Invitational.
Kaleigh Teel, who already owned the indoor pole vaulting record, set the outdoor mark in 2007. She now owns six top marks in the outdoor pole vault and four marks in the indoor pole vault.
"Kaleigh Teel and Ashley Korol had really solid years last year and now we just need to focus on making progress with them," said Harbour. "We need them to move up some so that they are in the upper echelon of the Big 12. Brittany Devereaux should also have another good year. We just got a little snake-bitten last year with some injuries to our field athletes. Brittany was sitting in the top five in the nation in the discus, and then missed some time with a broken finger. We would like to be a little deeper than what we are, but we feel like we are making some headway in the field events."
Stasia Kelly-Taylor should provide field depth in the triple jump, while DeAna Carson will be counted on in the long jump.
Baylor qualified for the NCAA Championships in the outdoor 4x400-meter relay and the indoor distance medley relay in 2007, earning All-American honors in the DMR. The Lady Bears also set school records in the 4x800-meter relay and outdoor distance medley relay at the Drake Relays.
"We feel like our depth on all our relays is going to be one of our main strengths," said Harbour. "The 4x100 should have six legs on the ladies side. The same depth is there for the women's 4x400We have a lot of depth and that's what we didn't have at all last year on the ladies' side. We really just had four legs and if someone went down with an injury then we were really in trouble.
"The 4x800-meter relay will be pretty competitive as well. We only lost one leg from that relay and the girls are already talking about who is going to be on that one. Then you add in a healthy Erin Bedell who has run 2:07 and Leigh Ann Ganzar who has run 2:09. She also has run 56.6 in the 400, so she has a lot of footspeed. We're going to have a lot of fun with our 4x800 and our DMR and sprint medley relays. We want our ladies to take a run at being one of the top relay schools in the nation this year and we feel like we have the runners to do that."
The men's sprint team will look to replace Reggie Witherspoon, one of the most decorated athletes in Baylor history. All-Americans LeJerald Betters, Quentin Iglehart-Summers and J.T. Scheuerman lead a group of 400 meter runners that could be deeper than last year's squad that set a new Baylor record in the 4x400-meter relay.
"All the guys are working hard," said Harbour. "I've never seen our guys working so hard in the offseason. They all are working hard to accomplish what we are trying to do as a collegiate team, but any time it's an Olympic year, it changes the whole dynamic."
All-American Trey Harts and All-Big 12 performer Courtney Thomas will lead the short sprints and look to improve upon last year's season that was cut short due to injuries. Former national champion Jacob Norman returns for his junior season following a sophomore season plagued with injury. The school record holder in the 60 meters had offseason hip surgery in 2006 and suffered a hamstring injury early in the 2007 season.
"Courtney and Trey both got hurt at the end of the year last year, which was unfortunate," said Harbour. "But we are working our tails off in the weight room during the fall doing some things to keep our guys healthy. Jacob Norman is on a mission. He is working really hard to get ready for the season."
High School All-American Whitney Prevost will add depth in the 100 and 200 meters, while Marcus Boyd was one of the top prep quartermilers in the nation last year.
"Marcus Boyd has great range from 100 to 400 and then Whitney Prevost won the state title in the 100 and 200 and he can fly," said Harbour. "We will count on those guys to give us depth in the sprints and to be key legs on our relays."
Like the men's cross country team, the distance and middle distance corps will be young and inexperienced, especially in the upper distances. Jones, along with Haby, will again lead the Bears.
"It will be tough for us because we don't have any old veterans on the team," said Harbour. "Jacob Jones is our most experienced guy and he is just a junior. So we will have to make a huge step to compete with the tough distance schools in our conference. We have some young guys that are on the right path to getting into the finals in some of the distance races. Jacob Jones and Ben Haby could be those guys for us this year. Robbie Knorr, Michael Williams and Logan Roberts are all capable of stepping up for us."
Baylor will also look for big things from high school All-American half-miler James Gilreath. The 800 meter runner-up at the Nike Outdoor Nationals has range to run the 800 or 400 meters and will look to make an impact on Baylor's relay teams.
"I think that the sky is the limit for James Gilreath," said Harbour. "He is a hard worker and he has the combination of speed and strength that you need to be a good half-miler. He's got the fastest open 400 time of any 800 runner we have ever brought in. We are looking for big things from him, and he wants to be the best half-miler that's ever come out of Baylor.
After struggling to produce field points at the Big 12 and NCAA Championships, Baylor looks to have several athletes who can score in the field events. Baylor graduated the services of Chris Cardwell, one of the top throwers in Baylor history. Veteran Josh Camp will look to improve his range to place in the Big 12 meets. Prevost, along with Nick Lyons and Joseph Farley, are three freshmen who could immediately score points at the conference meet for Baylor.
"Josh Camp is a good veteran in the triple jump; he just needs to be able to get to that next level to be competitive in the Big 12," said Harbour. "Whitney Prevost, Nick Lyons and Joseph Farley are at the place right now where they could get us points now at the conference meet."
Freshman Adrian Edmonds could make an impact in the throws and freshman Lazslo Vandracsek could score at the Big 12 Championships in the multi events.
"Adrian Edmonds could be a surprise for us; he was a 57-foot shot putter in high school, so he could help us," said Harbour. "Lazslo Vandracsek is a guy that will do multis for us. Coach Brabham thinks that he could do well for us also."
Baylor enjoyed a banner year for its men's relays in 2007, breaking a 12-year old school record in the 4x400-meter relay and running the fourth-fastest time in NCAA history. The Bears also won all four sprint relays at the Drake Relays, the first time a university team accomplished that feat since 1944.
But the biggest challenge for Baylor might be replacing Reggie Witherspoon and Kevin Mutai, two key legs for the Baylor relays in 2007.
"It's going to be tough to replace those two guys on the 4x400," said Harbour. "Reggie Witherspoon ran an amazing leadoff leg; probably the best ever at Baylor along with Michael Ford. During indoors he was automatic; he was going to get to the break first and get you the lead and that's what you need for indoors so you get to run clean."
"Kevin Mutai was so solid on that third leg," said Harbour. "It was so deceptive because he looked so easy when he was running. So these guys have some big shoes to fill but we are just going to reload."
The two returning legs of the record-breaking relay are Betters and Iglehart-Summers. Both have run sub-45 legs in the relay and look to lower their times even more this season in hopes of qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
"Three years ago with Darold (Williamson) and Jeremy (Wariner), we had two of the top guys in the country and they were on the last two legs. Not saying that we would do that this year, but when you have guys like Quentin and LeJerald, that could also be an option. They could be those two monsters on the end of the relay that everyone is scared on. And what LeJerald did on the second leg at nationals last year after running the open quarter was pretty impressive. He is going to be really good this year; he is working his tail off. Both of those guys want to be running in the low to mid 44s so that they can take a shot at making the US squad next summer; they know what year it is.
Scheuerman, who earned All-America honors last season leading off the 4x400-meter relay in the preliminary rounds at the NCAA Championships, could be another quartermiler to step into an open leg of the relay.
"J.T. has been running really well and is healthy," said Harbour. "He really stepped up last year at the conference meet when we needed someone to run. He's got the leg speed to run that leadoff leg, especially in indoor when you need to get out and run a smart race. So we are telling J.T. that we really need him to step up."
Any one of a number of other athletes could fill the fourth spot of the 4x400-meter relay, as well as be a fixture in the sprint relay, 4x200-meter relay and sprint medley relay.
"Marcus Boyd, Whitney Prevost, Trey Harts, Courtney Thomas, David Gettis, James Gilreath and Justin Boyd could all step in to the relay," said Harbour. "Justin Boyd transferred in this year. He was a great 50.8 hurdler at Angelo State, so you can't count him out. James Gilreath is the real deal; he ran 46.6 in the open 400, so we've got some competition. I think that we are as deep in the relays as we were last year."
Baylor will use its regular season meets in preparation for its championship meets. The Bears will participate in several indoor meets at Arkansas, the site of the NCAA Indoor Championships. During the outdoor season, Baylor will run at the Husker Open in Lincoln, Neb., site of the NCAA Regionals, as well as its annual trip to the Drake Relays, host of the NCAA Outdoor Championships.