By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Grinning from ear to ear, Baylor men’s cross country coach Jon Capron rattles off the names of his six returners from a team that posted the highest NCAA regional finish in six years.
“I’m really excited about the guys I have coming back,” he said. “You take all that experience you had the year before, you package it up again and you add it to your team this year, and we’re going to be pretty good.”
On the flip side, head coach Todd Harbour loses two of his top runners from a team that made the NCAA Championships for the ninth time in the last 16 years.
“You’re bringing back three of your top five with Lindsey (Bradley), Anna (West) and Gabby (Satterlee),” Harbour said. “That’s a good place to start. You just take that and build upon it and see what we can do this year. Our ladies have that expectation of being at the NCAA meet. We’ve been a lot of times in the last few years, so we hope to make it back this year and wee what we can do.”
There’s optimism on both sides as the men and women open with the Baylor Twilight Invitational Friday night at the Heart of Soccer Complex in Waco (6101 Airport Road). The women’s 4,000-meter race will kick things off at 7 p.m., followed by the men’s 6K race.
“You just kind of catch your breath from a long track season,” Harbour said. “That’s the way track is, you never catch a break. You just go from one season to the next. But, we’re excited. These young ladies are coming off a great year last year and hoping to continue it on this year.”
Coming off a runner-up finish at last year’s NCAA South Central Region Championship and 27th-place at the NCAA Championships, the Baylor women received votes in the national preseason poll, but are ranked fourth in the region behind Arkansas, Abilene Christian and Texas.
“Last year, we weren’t getting any votes and moved up to 10th (nationally),” Harbour said. “We ended up being pretty good last year before all was said and done. The girls know that it doesn’t really mean anything. We know who we are right now, and we’ve just got to work at getting better each day, each week. I know it’s coach speak, but the only (ranking) that matters is the one at the end of the year.”
Junior Lindsey Bradley and sophomores Anna West and Gabby Satterlee ran in the top five pretty much all year. A transfer from the University of Washington, Bradley finished fifth at the Big 12 meet and third at regional, while West earned All-Big 12 and all-region honors as well.
“We’re used to being overlooked,” said Satterlee, a scoring runner in all seven races she competed in last year as a freshman. “Last year we were too, and we made it to nationals and had good showings at most of our races. I know we surprised everyone else, but that’s what happens when you work really hard and just try to squeeze out every bit of talent you have. You never really know what’s possible until you get to those bigger races.”
With an eye on the future, Harbour said he’s considering redshirting Bradley during the cross country season, which would make the team even younger. She will run unattached at the season-opening meet.
“She’s got three seasons of track left, indoor and outdoor, and only two with cross. So, we’re toying around with the idea of maybe redshirting her,” Harbour said. “We would definitely take a little bit of a hit this year for the future, but we’re trying to use some good judgment and not burn a season on her just yet. She’s ready to go, she’s healthy, she’s in great shape. She’s chomping at the bit to run in the uniform, but we’re going to make sure we don’t burn any bridges just yet.”
While the women have something of a youth movement, this is one of Capron’s most veteran-laden teams on the men’s side. Seniors Eric Anderson, Jordan West, Sam Sahli and Matt Parham and junior Jeff Kirwin were all on last year’s team, along with sophomore Devin Meyrer, a returning all-region pick who finished 17th at the NCAA South Central Region Championships.
“That’s really the only way you can get used to college racing is by actually doing it,” said Meyrer, coming off a stress reaction injury that forced him to sit out the outdoor track season. “Going into Notre Dame my freshman year, I was terrified, almost. You have some of the biggest names in the country. And you go out in the first mile sub-4:40. I wouldn’t have even done that for a 5K, let alone a five-mile. It was so bizarre. But going through conference and regionals, it helped me to become a better runner and also know who I am and how to race these big college races.”
Anderson has been the Bears’ most consistent runner over the last three years, finishing first among the Baylor runners in 14 of his 18 career cross country races, including a third-place finish at last year’s Baylor Twilight Invitational.
“To be able to walk away with that (fifth-place finish at the region meet) from that season, knowing we could have done better but knowing everybody was coming back and we were going to have another crack at it, is huge,” Capron said. “That’s essentially what these guys have done this summer. They’ve gone at it with that attitude and the mindset that ‘Hey, we’ve got another shot at this, everybody’s back, we’ve got some things we want to do, some things we want to earn. Let’s go get them done.’’’
Meyrer and Sahli will both sit out the opening meet, while Capron will run freshmen Connor Laktasic, Jeremy Meadows and Jackson Vicary unattached. “Just to make sure everybody stays safe, with the freshmen, I want to see where they’re at before we flip the switch on their season.”
At No. 5 in the preseason regional rankings, the Baylor men are the highest-ranked team in a field that includes No. 8 Texas State, No. 9 North Texas, TCU and Abilene Christian. No. 2 ACU and No. 4 Baylor head a strong field of women’s teams that includes No. 5 SMU, No. 6 TCU, No. 13 North Texas and Texas State.
“It’s always nice to have a home crowd cheering you on, especially when you know almost all the faces that are going to be there,” said Meyrer, who missed last year’s season-opening meet with an elbow injury. “It’s definitely a bummer to miss out on seeing people and putting on a show for the home crowd, but it’s all about thinking long-term. . . . As fun as it is to run at home and try to go for the win in front of your home crowd, I’m trying to think about regionals and nationals. If me sacrificing that first home meet is going to help me later on in the season, it’s definitely worth it.”
After taking next weekend off, the teams will combine to go to eight meets over the next two months, beginning with the Ken Garland Invitational on Sept. 16 in Denton, Texas. The women will go to the Texas A&M Invitational on Sept. 23 and the Adidas Invite on Oct. 13 in Madison, Wisc., while the men will compete at Pre-Nationals Oct. 14 in Louisville, Ky., site of the NCAA Championships in November.