Officially, the meet is known as the NCAA West Preliminary Championships. Colloquially, among college track coaches and athletes, it’s just known as “regionals.” And it’s certainly different than any other meet of the year, as first-place finishes don’t really matter.
It’s all about finishing in the top 12, in order to survive and advance to the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
However, as Baylor gets set to compete at the NCAA West Prelims beginning Thursday in Sacramento, California, BU head coach Todd Harbour said that he’s been preaching the same sermon as any other meet.
“You have to be careful you don’t go into it completely like that, because you’ve got to make sure that you get up,” Harbour said. “This is the first round of the NCAA. There’s no margin for error, you’ve got to be on it, so you have to approach it as this is the NCAA meet and this is the first round. And you have to be focused, locked-in.”
Wil London abhors losing. Whenever the Baylor senior toes the line, he’s always thinking about crossing the line first. He said he won’t alter that mentality in Sacramento, even though it would be a shock if he didn’t finish among the top 12 in the 400, where he ranks No. 1 in the region with a season-best time of 44.93.
You can’t just flip a switch and turn off your competitive zeal.
“Of course I have it in my mind what I have to do, but I’m going to go out and compete regardless,” London said. “I know I want to go out there and run as hard as I can, but I know when Coach (Clyde) Hart talks to me he’s going to tell me to not do that as much. Just relax and have a great race, and go out there and execute.”
Kiana Horton is another Baylor senior hoping to close her career in style at the NCAA meet, but first she’ll have to take care of business in Sacramento. Horton, the 2018 Big 12 champion in the women’s 400, finished sixth in that race this year, as she’s been trying to get over a nagging toe injury.
The good news for Horton and the rest of Baylor’s athletes is that spring classes are over, and they can just focus on competing. Actually, for Horton, London and 23 other seniors on the track team, graduation has come and gone, so they don’t even have to worry about summer or fall classes, either.
“It gives us more time to sleep, we can get back on stricter eating habits, and just really getting your mind and body focused on one thing rather than having to worry about practice and school and finals and studying,” Horton said. “We just have one goal. We’re all here for the same thing. We’re all bored most of the day, so all we have to worry about is track.”
Several of Baylor’s athletes are ranked in the top five in the West region in their respective events, and should be strong favorites to advance. In addition to London in the 400, they include freshman KC Lightfoot in the men’s pole vault (third, 18-83/4), the men’s 4x400 relay team (fourth, 3:03.17), and sophomore Alex Madlock in the women’s triple jump (second, 45-3).
Obviously, Baylor wants to get as many athletes out to the NCAA meet as possible. But if there’s any way to add any extra incentive, there’s this carrot dangling out there – this year’s NCAA meet is in Austin. It’s the first time since 2012 that the national meet has been anywhere but the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field.
“We’ve talked about it all year,” Harbour said. “We haven’t finished the last two years. I thought we competed over our heads at conference here at home (in 2018). We go to Sacramento, we survived, we advanced, we took a good crew to Eugene, and then we just didn’t get it done up there.
“So, from the very beginning this year, we said, ‘No, Austin is our second home, we want to make sure that we get through conference, you always want to compete hard and do well there.’ … But, we’ve always had the NCAA meet as our ultimate goal this year. So hopefully, we’ll be ready for it and get as many out as we can.”