Thursday-Saturday, May 25-27, 2017
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
As competitors, each of Baylor track and field's 34 entries in the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds wants to win, even burns to win.
But, the goal is just to survive and advance to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., as one of the top 12 in their respective events. The meet begins Thursday and runs through Saturday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas.
"I don't think it helps you at this stage of the season to go into any competition not trying to win," Baylor coach Todd Harbour said. "Your goal is just to advance, but you still want to compete. And there are people you're going to be competing against, if you make it to Eugene. So, you don't want to go into it like, `Oh, I don't want to compete.' You go to do your best, that's all they know. If you're fortunate enough to win, that's a blessing, but it doesn't really mean anything more than second or third in some of those events."
Sophomore quarter-miler Wil London, who ranks sixth in the region with a 45.46 clocking in the 400 meters, calls this meet "the most important step."
"We all have to go out there not just trying to make it to the next level, because that can also be a burden on us," he said. "We also want to run for good lanes at the next stage. They did random lane draws for this meet, but at Eugene they pick it off times. So, if we want to be in a good lane, be in a fast heat to make it to the next round, then we're going to have to run fast now."
Baylor has 12 entries on the women's side and another seven for the men that go in with top-12 marks in the West region, with London and senior teammate George Caddick ranked sixth and 10th, respectively, in the 400.
"I think Wil is one of those on our team that you would say he's got a bigger race in him, still," Harbour said. "Coach (Clyde) Hart doesn't usually like to talk about peaking, but I think Wil's ready to run fast. And so is George. George is on a mission. Both those guys just need to take care of business this weekend, and hopefully both of them will be advancing to the next round in Eugene."
For the men, Big 12 Freshman of the Year Maxwell Willis ranks second and fourth, respectively in the 200 and 100 meters and is also part of the 4x100 and 4x400 relays that are both in the top 10. But, he will get at least a little bit of a break this weekend with sophomore Caleb Dickson joining London, Caddick and football's Chris Platt on the 4x400.
"Right now, talking to Coach Hart, I think it's going to be Caleb, Chris, Wil and George, and that 4x4 will be solid," Harbour said. "That's a good one."
The Bears should be able to make some noise in the sprints with Willis on the men's side and sophomore Taylor Bennett having top-12 marks in both the 100 and 200 for the women. Like Willis, Bennett has been part of the 4x100 and 4x400 relays that go in ranked eighth and fifth, respectively, in the region.
Baylor is strongest, though, in the field events. School record-holders Annie Rhodes (15-1 ½) in the pole vault and Felix Obi (54-8 ¼) in the triple jump lead the nation in their respective events; Cion Hicks has top-five regional marks in the shot put and discus; and triple jumpers Brianna Richardson and Rachel Toliver are both ranked in the top five.
The NCAA runner-up indoors, Rhodes now has a chance to finish her career with a gold at the outdoor meet.
"The gold medal is definitely a goal," she said. "Approaching the indoor nationals, I really didn't expect to get second place at all. So, to do that, it's like now I know I can do it. Kind of like clearing 15 feet - I was close so many times, and I finally did it. It's like a circle of confidence that just keeps building.
"It's been a great ride, but I don't want to overanalyze it too much and then not be able to do my best. I just want to approach it like I do every meet, and just really make it count and be able to glorify the Lord, like I always want to do. And yeah, have some fun and clear some big bars."
Obi's only triple jump came at the Texas Relays two months ago, and the fifth-year senior hasn't competed at all since April 8 because of a nagging injury in his right knee.
"He's dealing with some cartilage (issues) in his knee, and he's had some injections. He's just trying to get through this season," Harbour said of Obi. "It's tough. Triple-jumping, man, what a demanding event. But, he feels good and he's a national champion, so he knows how to get it done. He's jumping through some pain right now, it's just a matter of what he can deal with. But, I think he's ready to go, I really do."
Live results for the meet are available at http://live.pttiming.com/?mid=1236.
WACO, Texas - Baylor will have a total of 34 entries in the field at the NCAA West Preliminary Championships, which run Thursday through Saturday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas.
The women will have 21 entries, while the men have 13 with each vying for a top-12 spot that earns a berth to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., June 7-10.
The 21 women's entries tie a program record set in 2014, while the 34 overall selections are second-most in the current NCAA West format, after the 36 that BU had in 2010.
The Baylor women will have 19 entries in individual events, along with both the 4x100 and 4x400-meter relays. Of those entries, Baylor has 12 currently ranked among the top 12 in the West region.
On the men's side, Baylor has 11 in individual events and both relay quartets. The Bears have seven entries currently ranked among the region's top 12.
The Bears have two athletes, who are ranked No. 1 in their event going into the regional meet. Felix Obi owns the region's top triple jump mark at 54-8.25 [16.67m], but he hasn't competed since the Baylor Invitational on April 8 due to a nagging injury. Meanwhile, Annie Rhodes set a school record, while winning the Big 12 title in the pole vault with a nation's best clearance of 15-1.5 [4.61m].
Baylor also has a pair of runner-up regional marks in Maxwell Willis (200m), the men's 4x400-meter relay of Willis, London, Dickson and Caddick. Willis, the reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year, won a Big 12 title in the 200 meters , while BU's quartermile relay crew took gold as well.
BU has four athletes competing in two individual events: Taylor Bennett (100, 200 meters), Cion Hicks (discus, shot put), Kiana Horton (100, 200 meters), Juanita Mainoo (100 meters, 200 meters), and Maxwell Willis (100 meters, 200 meters).
In two events, Baylor has three entries, including the women's 100 (Bennett, Horton, Mainoo) and 200 meters (Bennett, Horton, Mainoo).
In its last meet, Baylor athletes claimed five event titles at the Big 12 Outdoor Championship in Lawrence, Kan. Claiming the top spot on the podium for BU was Taylor Bennett (200 meters), Wil London (400 meters), Annie Rhodes (pole vault), Maxwell Willis (200 meters) and the men's 4x400-meter relay of Willis, London, Chris Platt and George Caddick.
QUOTING THE COACH
"These are the first rounds of the NCAA Championships, so it is get down there and take care of business. There are no winners. There are no losers. You just have to advance. We are just looking to take care of business and get to Eugene. You still want to compete and you go to do your best. We have a big number going and it is a great group. We have to finish strong. Last year was not a good ending for us, so we have focused the whole year on finishing strong." -- head coach Todd Harbour on his teams entering the meet
Live results and live video stream for the 2017 NCAA West Preliminary Rounds can be found at TexasSports.com. Complete meet recaps and video highlights can be found at the conclusion of each day of competition at BaylorBears.com
To stay current on all things Baylor Track, follow the team on Twitter: @BaylorTrack