With the likes of Willie Caldwell, Deon Minor, Darold Williamson and the great Michael Johnson milling about the Hart-Patterson Track and Field Complex, it felt a little like Old Home Week.
It was definitely a happy homecoming for those alumni, who came back to Waco in droves to help honor Clyde Hart for his 50th year of coaching at Baylor.
It wasn’t too bad of a day for the next wave of Bears, either.
Baylor captured 11 event titles and closed out with a pair of signature wins in the mile relay at Saturday’s Michael Johnson Dr Pepper Classic, the teams’ final tuneup before hosting the Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Championships on May 3-5.
“It was a great ending to a great weekend,” Baylor coach Todd Harbour said. “I thouht we did a good job today. The weather wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t bad, but it was just cool and I think it affected our performance in some of the events.”
Some of the former Baylor standouts who returned actually got out and stretched their legs in competition. The final of four heats in the men’s 400 featured a bevy of ex-Bears, including Jeremy Wariner, LeJerald Betters, Marcus Boyd, Zwede Hewitt and Quentin Iglehart-Summers.
But it was George Mason’s David Verburg
who pulled a scene-stealing performance. Wariner angled around the turn ahead of the pack, but Verburg picked up steam on the final straightaway and nipped the former Olympic champion at the finish. Verburg ran 45.56, while Wariner clocked in at 45.72 in his first 400 race of the outdoor season.
Blake Heriot turned in the top 400 showing for the current Bears, finishing eighth overall and fourth among collegians at 46.73.
In the mile relay, the Bears’ quartet of Joe Barb, Isaiah Duke, Drew Seale and Heriot matriculated to a winning time of 3:09.81, almost two seconds faster than second-place TCU.
In the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Baylor senior Taylor Jackson picked up a win in a time of 9:27.34. In later distance action, BU’s Brad Miles outlasted the field with a winning time of 15:01.08 in the 5,000, a race that saw a cluster of four Bears finish in the top six.
On the women’s side, Skylar White powered to a pair of wins, taking gold in both the discus (172-4) and the shot put (53-61/4). The senior All-American now has three discus wins and four shot put victories this season.
Baylor’s Erin Atkinson also hurled her way to a fourth title in six outdoor meets, throwing 207-6 in the hammer. Atkinson’s winning heave, which came on her penultimate attempt, was more than 17 feet better than her closest challenger, Brown University’s Lacey Craker.
BU freshman Brianna Richardson had a tighter battle, but still took gold in the triple jump with a season-best effort of 42-6, a little more than an inch better than second-place Kearah Danville of Angelo State.
Harbour said it’s getting to be a familiar feeling for the field events to carry the day for the Bears.
“It’s been the song this year,” he said. “Skylar had a great day in the shot and discus, and Erin won the hammer again. Then Bri had a big triple jump, a personal best for her.”
One of the flat-out best races of the day arrived mid-afternoon, with the women’s 4x100-meter relay. Baylor and its Big 12 rival TCU were neck and neck on each exchange, but BU freshman Justise Dayries clipped the Frogs’ Lorraine Ugen at the finish for the win. The Bears came in at 45.28, while TCU ran 45.30.
The men’s high hurdles race also produced a photo finish. Despite hitting a few hurdes, Baylor freshman Bryce Grace looked pretty graceful, and cleared the final hurdle in the lead. But right at his shoulder was South Plains’ Jovan Davis, and he pulled even at the line, prompting both runners to have to wait until the scoreboard flashed the results moments later.
The verdict? Davis won it in 14.19, while Grace had to settle for silver at 14.20.
Another Baylor frosh, Ashley Fields, took fourth overall in the women’s 100, but second among collegians, with a time of 11.76. But Fields still had some energy left, because about 40 minutes later she tallied a win in the 200 at 23.66.
Baylor senior Christina Holland, one of the team’s last hurdlers standing due to a glut of injuries, garnered a first-place effort in the 400 hurdles, running 58.57.
In the women’s mile relay, Baylor won in 3:39.40. Comprising the foursome for the Bears were Idia Omogiate, Fields, Brittany Ogunmokun and Raena Rhone.
The men’s 200 again belonged to TCU’s splendid sprinter Charles Silmon, who zipped to the finish in 20.76. A former state champion at Waco High, Silmon figures to be tough to beat in the sprints when he returns home to Waco again in two weeks for the Big 12 meet.
In his last meet, Baylor freshman Felix Obi went 51-61/2 in the triple jump to win the title at the Florida Relays. This time out, Obi actually sailed farther (51-93/4), but not quite enough to take victory, as TCU’s Cameron Parker edged him with a leap of 52-21/2. Obi also produced a third-place finish in the long jump (23-6).
Baylor will take next week off to prepare for the conference meet, and Harbour said the Bears will try to spend that time wisely.
“We will go back and reload and then back off a little bit for the conference meet,” Harbour said. “Usually you have the Drake Relays (before the Big 12 meet), but this is it for us, so we’re ready to go.”