It’s time to let the kids loose — let them run and play.
That’s the idea Todd Harbour has anyway. Baylor’s track and field coach can’t wait to see what type of shenanigans his freshmen might get into when the BU men and women open the indoor season at the inaugural Texas Tech Corky Classic at the brand-new Sports Performance Center in Lubbock on Saturday.
“It’s probably one of the most exciting openers for me just from the standpoint of watching some of our young ones competing,” Harbour said. “Some of them have never been on the boards before, but we’ve got a great group of freshmen and I know they’re excited, and that just brings some energy.”
Harbour’s pulse is quickening with good reason. The Bears signed the No. 3-ranked recruiting class last year on the men’s side, according to Track and Field News, and Harbour called the women’s class “outstanding” as well.
The rookies on the men’s side should compete for medals and Big 12 titles almost immediately. China Spring product Riley Richards, whose father Brandon is a volunteer assistant coach at Baylor, has All-America potential in the pole vault. “He very possibly could be an 18-footer this year, he’s closing in on that,” Harbour said.
Jalen Seals of Fort Worth Boswell will be aiming to take Baylor’s jumping tradition to new lengths. He was a member of USA Today’s All-America High School Team, and has personal bests of 51-4 in the triple jump and 24-111/2 in the long jump.
“Felix Obi was a (triple jump) national champion, this young man (Seals) is special,” Harbour said. “He was one of the top long jumpers in the state. He’s a lot further along in the long jump than Felix was. I just watched him come down the runway out there, and he’s a lot faster than Felix. He’s going to be good.”
More dynamic freshmen can be found on the track, where sprinter Isaiah Cunningham, hurdler Jayson Baldridge and quarter-miler Howard “Trey” Fields III are poised for big things, Harbour said. Fields’ father Howard was a two-sport star at Baylor in football and track who was drafted by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1980.
Baylor’s returning pace-setters aren’t too shabby, either. Wil London returns for his junior season after gaining valuable international experience last summer. After finishing eighth in the 400 at the NCAA outdoor meet, London went on to compete for Team USA at the World Track and Field Championships, opening plenty of eyes with a 44.08-second leadoff leg in the final, the fastest of anyone on the team.
“There were a lot of great guys that did a lot of great things last year as well,” said London, a junior out of Waco High. “I’m just the one that was able to bring it out when it counted the most. I think I’ll be fine. No pressure, really. Just go out there and do as best as I can.”
Junior Caleb Dickson is a valuable chip for Baylor’s hopes of adding another 4x400 trophy to the case, and sophomore sprinter Maxwell Willis won Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2017 in both the indoor and outdoor seasons. Like London, Willis had the opportunity to study abroad — quickly — in the summer, competing in the Pan-American Games, where he reached the 100-meter final with a time of 10.72.
Harbour also expects to get some help from a few Baylor football players, notably Tyquan Thomas, J.T. Woods and Raleigh Texada, who are scheduled to participate in their first track practices next week.
The Baylor women turned in arguably the finest indoor season in program history in 2017, capturing the school’s first Big 12 team title. Gone from that bunch are familiar heroes like pole vaulter Annie Rhodes, triple jumper Brianna Richardson and thrower Cion Hicks. So the Bears may be hunting for points in the field events, but that doesn’t mean they’re ill-equipped to defend their conference crown.
“(The Big 12 title) gave the Baylor track and field program as a whole a boost of confidence,” said senior sprinter Kiana Horton, “because it’s kind of always been one of those things where we’ve always come in with kind of a smaller team compared to the state schools. So knowing that we’ve done it once, we know we’re very capable of doing it again.”
Horton makes up one leg of Baylor’s 4x400 relay that finished fifth at the NCAA indoor meet with a school-record time of 3:30.60. All four members of that quartet return, including Leticia De Souza, Kiana Hawn and Taylor Bennett.
Baylor’s distance crew is loaded, led by Lindsey Bradley, who was all-conference in both the 3,000 and 5,000 in 2017, and Anna West, who garnered All-America honors in BU’s cross country season.
And the BU women also have some freshmen nipping at their heels. Sydney Washington of Round Rock Stony Point has big-time potential in the sprints and hurdles. Morgan Stewart of Jersey Village boasts a best time of 53.4 seconds in the 400, while Connally product Tontyana “TT” Sanders owns the all-time Central Texas record at 54.21. The distance bunch added depth in Belton’s Brooke Gilmore and Houston Kingwood’s Sarah Antrich.
Additonally, Alex Madlock of Brownwood should provide a lift in the triple jump following the graduations of Richardson and Rachel Toliver. Lorena’s Tiffani Peacock and Early’s Tuesdi Tidwell will try to offset the loss of Rhodes, who won the Big 12 pole vault crown in 2017. Peacock, who competed in a variety of events in high school, also plans to take a swing at the heptathlon.
And Aaliyah Miller still has four years of outdoor eligibility left after an injury-shortened freshman season. Miller set the school record in the 800 (2:02.89) indoors, but was sidelined for the duration of the outdoor campaign.
Obviously there’s always a learning curve for the incoming freshmen. Sure, “run fast and turn left” is great advice, but there is more technique involved than that as well as a step up in competition. Many of the freshmen have never even competed in an indoor season.
That’s why Harbour is eager to cut them loose and see what they can do.
“It’s a challenge, especially getting on a board track when you’ve never been on the boards before, a 200-meter banked track with a surface on it,” Harbour said. “It’s fast, you can be really good. But there’s an element of having to learn how to run on it a little bit, especially in the lap races. But, it usually doesn’t take them too long. The good ones are going to figure it out pretty fast.”