2004 Cross Country Preview: Bears Look for Repeat Success
by Michael Collins
In 2003, the Baylor cross country team had one of its most successful seasons ever, as the women's team finished second at the Big 12 Conference Championships and the South Central Regional and placed 25th at the NCAA Championships, while the men exceeded expectations and earned a fifth place finish at the Big 12 meet last season. In fact, Baylor trailed only Colorado for the best combined finish in the Big 12 Conference.
Although the Bears had a terrific 2003 season, head coach Todd Harbour insists the program will continue to work towards becoming the best in the Big 12.
"Last year was one of the most successful in program history," head coach Todd Harbour said. "However, we still know there is work to be done and the returning runners are hungry to duplicate what we accomplished last year and reach even higher goals."
Of course, having continued success in the Big 12 Conference, one of the toughest in the country, is not always easy to accomplish. In order to duplicate last year's results, the Bears will rely heavily on several returning runners who found success during the 2003 season.
The women's team returns its top three runners from last year, as Brittany Brockman, Lisa Cornelius and Angela Marvin return after stellar seasons a year ago. In fact, the trio finished in the top three for the Bears in every meet they participated in last season.
"We are extremely excited about the women's team this year," Harbour said. "We will likely be ranked pretty high to start the season and there will be a lot of high expectations for the team."
Brockman returns after placing eighth in the Big 12 Conference meet, good enough to earn an all-conference selection. The sophomore also qualified for the World Cross Country Championships and placed 14th at the South Central Regional meet last.
"Brittany (Brockman) should be one of our leaders this year," Harbour said. "She worked hard over the summer and looks ready to have a great season."
Another All-Big 12 Conference selection from a year ago, Angela Marvin, returns with hopes of duplicating her sixth place finish at the conference championships. The junior also helped to lead the Bears to a second-place finish in the South Central Regional meet with her eighth place showing at the meet.
"Angela (Marvin) had a great fall for us last season," Harbour said. "She has worked really hard after falling on some hard times during the outdoor season and should rebound to have another great year."
The return of Cornelius gives the Bears' women's team a formidable top three for the 2004 campaign. Cornelius finished 15th at last year's Big 12 Conference Championships and just missed earning an all-conference selection. After rebounding from an injury-plagued outdoor season, the junior is poised for another successful cross country season.
"Lisa (Cornelius) is extremely fresh and hungry for the season to begin," Harbour said. "She could have a huge impact on the success of our team this year."
In addition to Brockman, Cornelius and Marvin, Monique Ortega returns to provide the Baylor women with another experienced runner. Ortega finished among the top five for the Bears in each meet she participated in, including a 22nd-place finish at the Big 12 Championships, and should provide solid depth for the Baylor women.
A pair of newcomers should provide a spark for the women's program, as Lyndsy Bedell and Alissa McKaig arrive on campus following outstanding high school careers. Bedell comes to Baylor after finishing 17th at the United States Junior Championships, while McKaig enters her freshman season after capturing the Indiana individual state cross country title.
"Lyndsy was one of the top distance runners o come out of Texas this year and should be able to have a strong fall," Harbour said. "Alissa (McKaig) is one of the top distance runners Baylor has signed and should make an immediate impact."
The returns of Jessa Chance, Brittany McGuire and Beatrice Metobo, along with the addition of several other talented newcomers, should provide the women's team with one of the most formidable line-ups in the Big 12 Conference.
The men's team took more of a hit from graduation than the women's team, however, the Bears do return All-Big 12 Conference selection Bo Price as well as Rob Morrow, Jason Baker, Mitch Sanders and Cody Wells.
"We lost two key members (Matt Chance and Kyle King) from last season," Harbour said. "Our returning runners know they will have to step up in order to duplicate last year's finish in the Big 12."
Price looks to be the leader of the group after a strong sophomore season. The native of Atlanta, Texas, earned all-conference honors after finishing 12th at the Big 12 Championships last season. He was also the first Bear to finish at the North Texas and Roy Griak meets last season.
"Bo (Price) had a consistent outdoor season and is ready for this year," Harbour said. "He finished seventh in the 1500-meters at outdoors and the DMR team he was a part of won the conference title, so we are expecting big things out of him this year."
A huge key to the success of the 2004 version of the men's cross country team could be the performance of Morrow and Wells. Morrow, a junior from Grapevine, Texas, was the fourth Bear to finish at the Big 12 Championships last year, placing 49th, while Wells came in just behind Morrow with a 52nd place finish.
"It is important Rob (Morrow) and Cody (Wells) have a good season," Harbour said. "They recognize this and should be able to have a strong season for us."
Sanders provides the Bears with a solid number four runner, as the sophomore earned a season-best sixth-place finish at the Texas State Classic last season.
The addition of four newcomers to the Bears program should provide the men's team with solid depth throughout the year. Ryne Elfstrom, Luis Gutierrez, Jacob Jones and Joel Sartain all join the men's program this season.
Although the men will likely not be picked to finish as high as the women in the Big 12 Conference, Harbour believes the group has a chance to silence the doubters.
"I think this team will be better than most people think," Harbour said. "They have worked extremely hard and are ready for a good season."
The season begins for the Baylor cross country team on Friday, Sept. 3, with the Bear Relays before the teams participate in the North Texas Invitational on Sept. 11 and the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 25.
On Oct. 16, the Bears get their final tune-ups before the Big 12 Championships, as the Baylor women head to the Pre-Nationals meet in Terre Haute, Ind., while the men run in the Chile Pepper Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark.
The meets all lead up to a trio of championship races. The Bears will open post-season competition at the Big 12 Championships on Oct. 30, in Topeka, Kan., before returning to their home course for the South Central Regional on Nov. 13, in Waco, Texas. Baylor will then conclude the season at the NCAA Championships on Nov. 22, in Terre Haute, Ind.
According to Harbour, the schedule provides the Bears a chance to work their way towards a strong showing in the final three races.
"Everything builds to the final races of the season," Harbour said. "If everything goes as planned, I think our men's and women's teams can exceed expectations."