June 5, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
As a wide-eyed freshman in her first semester at Baylor, Olicia Williams let names and times intimidate her.
"I always ran scared indoors because of all the big girls I was running against and the crazy times I would see," she said. "I would just sit back and wait for them to make their moves, and I never ran my race."
But those days are over.
At last month's Big 12 Outdoor Championships in Waco, Williams showed how far she has come, passing seniors Kendra Chambers of Texas and Ejiroghene Okoro of Iowa State right before the finish line and taking second place in the 800 meters with a then personal-best time of 2:05.23.
"Always at around 200 meters, I would be like, `I'll let them go, and I'm just going to cruise in and look relaxed,''' said the freshman from New York. "But when my dad came and watched me run, he was like, `You've got this! You've got this!' I passed one, and I was like, `OK, I've got this.' And then I passed another one (Chambers) right before the line. So now I've got that under my belt, I beat her, and I know anything's possible."
Williams followed that up at the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds, taking third in her heat and eighth overall with a time of 2:05.20 that ranks as the second-best outdoors time in school history.
She is one of 16 Baylor athletes in 11 events that will compete in the NCAA Outdoors Championships that start Wednesday at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
"It's like a totally different atmosphere and everything," said Williams, who won a national age-level championship in the 1,500 meters in Eugene when she was in sixth grade. "It's like Track Nation. I think I'll do well up there. I have to; I have no choice."
Considering that Williams didn't even enroll at Baylor until late January, after getting cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse, it's surprising how far she's come in a matter of months.
"I call her a freak-of-nature talent," said Baylor head coach Todd Harbour. "She's just so talented. We saw that coming out of high school. It was just up to her and whether she was willing to work hard on all the little things that can take her to the next level. She's such a fierce competitor. . . . She's an amazing talent, and hopefully we can keep her on the right road and keep her healthy. She's got a knee that's bothering her right now, but she'll be ready to go."
Williams said she knew about Baylor, "because of RG3 and Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner." But when her dad, former University of Missouri track standout Keith Williams, talked to Baylor legendary coach Clyde Hart two years ago at a meet at The Armory Track and Field Center in New York, she said, "I really didn't have a decision to make."
"My dad didn't think Baylor was going to talk to me at all, and he had really loved Baylor his whole life," OIicia said. "So he was like, `Baylor's talking to you, you're going there.' I really didn't have a decision to make, but I'm really happy about the decision. I love it now."
After coming in late and running in a meet her first week at Baylor, Williams had to return home to New York the next week when she found out that both of her boyfriend's parents had died "in a real tragic deal up in New York," Harbour said.
"She had it really, really rough, right off the start," Harbour said.
"But I came back strong," she said.
At her first Big 12 Indoor Championships, Williams survived the prelims and finished fourth overall in 2:07.83.
"She ran 2:07 indoors and has been dropping all season," Harbour said. "Now, she's making 2:05 look really easy. . . What you look for in a half-miler is somebody who doesn't break down at the end of the race. She looks like she's not even trying coming in. She's just very smooth, very efficient, not much wasted motion. She's a beautiful runner."
More of a longer distance runner until junior high, Williams said she switched to the 800 when her dad told her it was the perfect race for her. Other than possibly the 400-meter hurdles, it's considered the toughest race on the track.
"The 1,500 was easy compared to the 800," said Harbour, a former national champion in the 800 who still holds the collegiate record in the mile. "I don't think I've ever hurt any worse than after you run a hard 800. The lactate (acid) starts building up (in your blood stream), and you with it for so long, you have to learn how to push it out."
"It's two 400s in one race," Williams said. "I ran that first 800, and I was like, `Wow, this is hard!' But I saw that I was good at it and grew to love it."
Williams also runs the third leg on the 4x400-meter relay that finished third at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships and 10th at the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds in 3:32.71. In the qualifying round at the West meet in Austin, Williams posted a 52.6-second quarter, but was gunned down by reigning NCAA 400-meter champion Ashley Spencer of Illinois.
"When I got the baton, I was like, `I'm going to catch her,''' Williams said. "And then all of a sudden, I saw her take off with her first two steps. And I was like, `Why is she going so fast? What's going on with me?' But when I finished, everyone was like, `No, that's a national champ.' She was just a monster. I guess it's kind of a good thing when I don't know who's on my leg. I just need to go out and run my race."
Baylor's other individual entries are Ashley Fields in the 200 meters, Blake Heriot in the 400, Christina Holland in the 400 hurdles, Skylar White and Desmine Hilliard in the discus and Erin Atkinson in the women's hammer. Also qualifying for the NCAA Championships were the men's and women's 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
"All of our guys have a shot," Harbour said. "And our ladies all have a chance. The nice thing about it is with the exception of Skylar and Christina, you've got a bunch of young ones up there."
The men's 4x400 relay is trying to make up for last year's disappointment, when the Bears were ninth in the semifinals in a season-best time of 3:03.69, but failed to make the finals of the NCAA Outdoor Championships for the first time since 1979.
Seniors Justin Allen and Drew Seale return off that team and are joined by Heriot and freshman Isaiah Duke.
"They probably won't sleep the night before, I'm guessing," Harbour said. "It definitely motivates them. Blake's got to do his job on the end of it. He's got to do a little better job of getting it around there."
In the men's 4x100 relay, the late addition of transfer Mark'Quis Frazier from the University of Houston helped the Bears finish third at the NCAA West Preliminaries with a season-best time of 39.68. Frazier is joined by Allen, Heriot and freshman anchor Alex Reece.