Just as a hand doesn’t work as well without the thumb, a cross country team isn’t fully functional without a good No. 5 runner.

The Baylor women have been searching for consistency from their No. 5 scoring spot all season. Head coach Todd Harbour knows what he’s going to get from his top performers, Lindsey Bradley and Anna West. But from a team perspective, that duo hasn’t been enough to cover the gap.

“We didn’t run bad (at the Big 12 meet),” Harbour said. “We’ve kind of been in the same spot that we were last year. We don’t have a fifth runner. It was definitely something we struggled with last year.”

Baylor finished fifth at the Big 12 meet two weeks ago in Round Rock, though Harbour had scoped out second as a possibility. In that race, West captured the silver medal overall and Bradley finished right on her heels in third. But Baylor’s fifth runner, freshman Sarah Antrich – who was competing in her first collegiate meet – came in 53rd.

Harbour will need his end-of-the-line runners to trim that expanse if the Bears want to finish among the top two at Friday’s NCAA South Central Regionals in College Station on Friday. A top-two finish would give Baylor an automatic berth to the NCAA Cross Country Championships for a second straight year.

Harbour said that his No. 5 performers haven’t run badly this year. He was especially proud of the way Antrich competed at the Big 12 meet in her first college action, after dealing with an IT band injury for much of the season. But for Baylor to outrun the top teams in the region, Harbour needs everyone clicking with one of those “out of their mind” type of meets.

For Baylor, the good news: Even though the Bears are ranked fourth in the region, they’ve beaten the two teams ranked directly ahead of them this year, No. 2 Abilene Christian and No. 3 Texas. Arkansas is the top-ranked team in the region.

“We’ve got one more shot, and we’ve got a good shot at it,” Harbour said. “All the teams that are ranked ahead of us we’ve beaten. So we’ve just got to put it together.”

Even if the Bears don’t qualify as a team, West and Bradley are tough enough to get there on their own. Both were all-region performers last year, and West is coming off arguably her best performance as a collegian, a “breakthrough race,” Harbour called it.

The Baylor men placed fifth at last year’s regional meet, and BU coach Jon Capron believes they’re primed for a finishing flourish.

“We’re built a little bit more (for a 10K race),” Capron said. “I build these guys for this race. The 10K course is a little more straightforward.”

Baylor sophomore Devin Meyrer has a chance to become the program’s first runner with multiple all-region finishes since Bo Price (2003-06). Meyrer was 12th at the Big 12 meet with an 8,000-meter time of 24:22.8.

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