The lay of the land at the Dale Watts Cross Country Course in College Station rolls out like this: When the runners scale the one main hill, they’re able to see the finish line.
However, this isn’t your car’s rearview mirror. Objects are not closer than they appear.
They’re actually farther.
“You get in the home stretch, you can see it. So, that definitely excites you,” Baylor associate cross country coach Jon Capron said. “So you want to make that finish get there as soon as possible, sometimes just to end the hurting. But, the problem with that is that stretch is probably almost a half-mile, and that’s a really long, painful ‘I can see the end, but it’s not getting any closer as fast as I would like it to.’ That’s a really long kick.”
Baylor has reached the finishing kick of its season, and knows it needs to display both intelligence and heretofore unseen strength if it wants to extend its season one more meet. Neither the Baylor men nor the women have quite performed the way they’ve wanted this year, and are coming off disappointing finishes of eighth (men) and ninth (women), respectively, at the Big 12 Championships two weeks ago.
So they’ll need to finish in the top two in the team standings at Friday’s NCAA South Central Regional meet in College Station in order to garner one of the automatic qualifying spots to nationals. Given the makeup of the teams, and some of the injuries they’ve endured, that figures to be a “big ask” to make that expectation, Capron said.
Yet that doesn’t mean they won’t leave it all on the course.
“You’re also kind of fighting for this is what I’ve earned, this is where I deserve to be at the end of the season,” Capron said. “I kind of want to put my time, my mark, the team wants to, whatever the case may be. So, that’s kind of what we’re doing. Because again, those top two are pretty selective. It’s a tough race strategy to say top two or bust.”
Baylor’s Allison Andrews-Paul, a junior from New Zealand, and Brooke Gilmore, a sophomore from nearby Belton, should contend for all-region honors on the women’s side. Andrews-Paul said the entire team continues to push itself in workouts, it’s just a matter of putting it together on race day.
“We can see it in practice, so we know it’s there,” said Andrews-Paul, who finished 46th at the Big 12 meet. “And we just haven’t been able to see it on the course, which is disappointing, but we’re using it as fuel to go into this one, to give a performance we know we’re capable of.”
The Baylor men enter Friday’s meet unranked in the regional rankings, but they’ve also beaten some of the teams ranked ahead of them at earlier meets. Connor Laktasic, a sophomore from Albuquerque, N.M., believes that the Bears’ familiarity with the A&M course could provide the road map to a better-than-predicted finish.
At the very least, they’ll know not to start salivating when they see that finish line.
“It’s difficult to come up over the hill and see the finish and not start too early,” said Laktasic, who was 34th at the Big 12 meet. “So just being able to maintain, stay focused, and keep a good head on your shoulders and know that it’s longer than it looks. That’ll be important.”