Running is not a spectator sport. Cheerleaders do not attend races and fans do not fill the bleachers. Individual focus, determination and teammate support are the fuel and motivation behind distance runners.
The hard work of Baylor's cross country teams could easily bring forth a successful season for the Bears. Coach Todd Harbour is entering his fourth season at Baylor and anticipates that the women's and men's teams will be successful. Newlywed runners Matt and Jessa Chance possess additional leadership qualities they hope will guide the teams to nationals.
Matt, a senior, is more adamant about the success of the whole cross country team than he is about achieving his personal goals. He has worked hard and built himself into a stronger runner during his time at Baylor.
"I've grown to love and respect the sport," he said. "I have a deeper appreciation for it." Matt's positive attitude, experience and maturing are elements that will hold his team together as they strive for higher rankings and national recognition.
The former Jessa Vacek, a junior, is stepping up and taking on more responsibilities this year for the women's team.
"Jessa is a natural leader," Harbour said of the runner. Her relationship with and marriage to Matt has built her into a respectable teammate and leader."
"I feel like I've grown up really quickly. The girls think of me as the mother hen of the group," Jessa explained.
Despite injuries, Jessa is working hard and improving daily. She hopes to rejoin the traveling squad, improve her personal time and help lead Baylor to nationals.
The Chance's marriage has not changed much about their running careers. They keep their relationship at home and remain focused at practice. The couple is in constant support of each other, but do not let their marriage interfere with their jobs as collegiate athletes.
"It's amazing that I get to see Matt run and we get to be together so much," Jessa said.
Their marriage has changed aspects of their personal lives, but has only improved their level of enthusiasm on the cross country team. Harbour commented that both of them have improved tremendously and have had some great success here at Baylor. Matt was ranked 10th in the Big 12 as a sophomore, and Jessa has frequently competed well and finished with high rankings.
Jessa was attracted to Baylor and its cross country team because of numerous things, but none weighed as heavily on her decision as the congeniality of Baylor's coaching staff. She admired Harbour's friendly personality, and the size of Baylor suited her perfectly.
She respects Harbour the most of any runner and said, "he is the best collegiate miler, so it's pretty amazing to be coached by someone that was as great as him." Harbour remains the collegiate world record holder in the mile more than twenty years after he established his time of 3:50.34.
Matt, from Colleyville, Texas, is preparing for his last year as a collegiate runner while concurrently planning for the future of his family. An accounting major, he will graduate in May 2005 after completing Baylor's five-year master's program. Matt aspires to become a certified public accountant, like his father, and hopes to one day provide his family with the same household with which he was blessed. Strong backgrounds and good role models combined with the rewarding experiences of cross country will create a bright future for Matt and Jessa Chance.
The cross country team's future is promising as well. Harbour said, "I am very humble to be coaching both of these outstanding groups." He is confident that this season will be successful for both squads. He has seen both teams take big steps already this year.
"Our ladies can start thinking about challenging Colorado," he said. Colorado has never lost the Big 12 title in cross-country, so that is a specific goal the women are trying to achieve. They are rising to a level of prominence and are currently ranked 14th nationally.
Physically, both teams are in great shape. It is a year-round sport and the athletes are not allowed many breaks. Baylor runners are swimming twice a week and are working hard to remain in premier physical condition. Mentally, the teams are trying to keep focused, work one day at a time and steadily improve.
Success seems to be an inevitable part of the Baylor cross country immediate future. The combined leadership from senior team members, Matt and Jessa Chance and Harbor should help maintain great attitudes and athletic performance on Baylor's cross country teams.