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WACO, Texas - Baylor returns 16 All-Big 12 performers to the 2018 Big 12 Indoor Championship hosted by Iowa State at the Lied Recreation Center in Ames, Iowa, running Friday and Saturday, Feb. 23-24 in Ames, Iowa.
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Todd Harbour is crossing sports lines for his message to Baylor's defending champion women's team going into the Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championship that begins Friday in Ames, Iowa.
Even though the team lost big field event points with the graduation of Annie Rhodes (pole vault), Brianna Richardson (triple jump) and Cion Hicks (shot put) and is also missing Taylor Bennett, Leticia De Souza and Lindsey Bradley on the track, "you just go with what you've got and you can't feel sorry for yourself," Harbour said.
"Look at the Super Bowl this year," referencing the Philadelphia Eagles winning it with backup quarterback Nick Foles replacing an injured Carson Wentz. "It would be nice to have Leti and Taylor and Lindsey, that's three pretty big ones. But, we don't have them. The crazy thing is we're actually still in the consideration for a title. . . . We're going to have to have a great meet, but we're capable of doing it."
In last year's surprising run to the program's first conference championship, Bennett was the runner-up in both the 60 and 200 sprints and ran leadoff leg on the winning 4x400 relay that De Souza anchored.
"(Bennett) strained her quad at Tyson last week," Harbour said. "She could probably go, but my deal is we've got a really big one here coming up in two months, the (Big 12) Outdoor Championship that we're hosting. I would love to be favored to win that at home. Because truth be known, we had family and friends there last year when we won it, but I don't think there was one single spectator fan that went to Ames, Iowa, to watch us win a Big 12 title. But, it will be different this year at home. We'll have a big crowd."
Junior Kiana Horton, also part of that 4x400 relay a year ago, is ranked second in the conference in both the 200 (23.39) and 400 (53.37).
"We're going in with confidence, so we can definitely do it again," she said. "We know we lost a lot of seniors last year, but we haven't let that stop us. . . . (Losing Bennett) definitely hurts us in the 60 and 200 and in the 4x4, but we have a lot of girls, a lot of freshmen, that we're looking to see step up and make up for those points."
Overall, Harbour said this is one of the youngest teams he's ever taken to a conference meet. Of the 44 on the travel roster, the only seniors are sprinter Malik Wilson and Robert Dutton on the men's side and Kiana Hawn and Juanita Mainoo for the women.
"I don't know that we've ever come close to anything that young," Harbour said. "It's a young group, and they're growing up. We've thrown them into the fire this season, and they've been to the best meets and competed against the best. They've embraced that. So, we're ready."
Going into the meet, Baylor has 37 event marks (14 men, 23 women) among the top 10 in conference. Much like last year, the women are strongest in the middle distance and distance events, with Morgan Stewart (600 yards), Aaliyah Miller (800), Alison Andrews-Paul (1,000) and Anna West (3,000) all owning top-three marks and Hawn returning as the defending champion in the 600.
"We can't focus on what we're not taking up there," Harbour said. "This is the group we're going with, and we've just got to find a way and go get it done. With the ladies, it's just 'Hey, we are good.' We know we are, and there's some talented young ladies in there. A few of them happen to be very young, but they're very talented."
The men have fewer opportunities, particularly with junior Wil London likely held out of the open 400 meters. He placed third in the 400 at last year's conference indoor meet, won a silver medal in the 4x400 relay at last summer's World Championships and has the No. 2 mark in the Big 12 this season at 45.95.
Currently ranked eighth nationally, London has Baylor's only qualifying mark for the NCAA Championships. But, he's confident that he won't be alone.
"Everyone shows up when it counts the most," he said. "I told people don't worry about the national rankings right now, because it's a lot different when you show up for conference. You have a different mindset. It's championship week, so everyone is ready. And I know I'll have a lot more people that will be on that bus with me."
Maxwell Willis, who was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year at the indoor and outdoor meets, has been slowed by an injury he suffered last summer and is well off his career-best marks in the 60 and 200. But last year, he won the 200, placed second in the 60 and ran leadoff leg on the 4x400 relay that was the runner-up behind Texas.
"For whatever reason - sophomore slump, coming off the injury last year, the hamstring - he's just not all the way back," Harbour said. "There's not one of those freshmen that aren't going to be great and breaking records before they get out of here. It's just they're having to grow up pretty fast. We don't have that much veteran leadership to go with them right now. Getting Maxwell back rolling is a big deal. So, we need him to have a big meet."
Multi events kick off the meet at 10 a.m. Friday, with running and field events starting at 3 p.m. at Iowa State's Lied Recreation Center. On Saturday, multis start at 11 a.m., followed by field events at noon and running finals at 1:30 p.m.
FloTrack is streaming live video all weekend, with live scoring available at http://results.deltatiming.com/big-12/tf/2018-big-12-indoor-championships.
• For the first time ever, the Baylor women's squad will defend their Big 12 title in Ames this weekend. Last year, the Bears collected a program-high 129.5 points and four Big 12 titles to clinch the crown.
• Baylor returns 16 All-Big 12 performers to the 2017 Big 12 Indoor Championship hosted by Iowa State at the Lied Recreation Center in Ames, Iowa, including 3 who have won Big 12 indoor titles.
• Heading into the Big 12 Indoor Championship meet, the Bears have 37 event marks (14 men & 23 women) among the top 10 in the conference.
• The Bears have one league-leading mark in Kiana Horton (200m).
• Baylor's women also own 11 top three-marks in Taylor Bennett (60m, 200m), Kiana Horton (400m), Morgan Stewart (600y), Aaliyah Miller (800m), Alison Andrews-Paul (1,000m), Anna West (3,000m, 5,000m), Alex Madlock (triple jump) and the distance medley relay.
• On the men's side, the Bears have a pair of runner-up league times from Wil London (400m) and Devin Meyrer (5,000m).
• The men also have three other marks in the top five: Howard Fields III (400m), Luke Littlefield (heptathlon) and the 4x400-meter relay.
• If the season ended before the Big 12 Championship, the Bears would have just one entry to the NCAA Championships field (Wil London - 400m).
• The Baylor women have finished in the top four of the team standings in five of the last six years, while the men will look to finish above seventh for the first time since 2013.
• Each squad has four athletes that have previously stood on top of the podium at an indoor conference meet, including Caleb Dickson, Wil London and Big 12 Outstanding Freshman Maxwell Willis for the men and Kiana Hawn and Kiana Horton for the women.
• The Bears head into the Big 12 Indoor Championship without three key components on the women's side due to injury: Leticia De Souza, Taylor Bennett and Lindsey Bradley.
TOP QUOTE #1
"We're extremely young. The crazy thing is that we're still in consideration for a title. We've gotten here, and we've got to try to stay here now. That's what we're hoping to do. We've got to have a great meet, but we're capable of doing it. This year, the conference is solid. There's a bunch of 100-point teams. If we can scrap and claw to 100 points, then we'll be in it." - head coach Todd Harbour on the women's team
TOP QUOTE #2
"We've thrown them to the fire this season. They've competed at the best meets and competed against the best, so we're ready. All of those freshmen are what we thought they were. There's not one of those freshmen that won't be breaking records before they get out of there. They just have to grow up pretty fast. Also, getting Maxwell (Willis) back with a healthy Wil (London) will be great." - Harbour on the men's squad
Live results of the 2018 Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championship can be found here. Subscribers can watch the meet all weekend long with FloTrack.
A recap and results can be found at the conclusion of each day of competition at BaylorBears.com.
For photos/results and highlights follow @BaylorTrack on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.