What did you do over Christmas break?
If you’re like most people, you probably spent some time with family, opened some gifts, consumed a fair amount of food, and sat around the house.
If you’re a member of Baylor’s track and field team, you did those things, too. But you sure as heck should have done some running too, or else you’re going to feel it this weekend.
The Bears will commence with the indoor portion of their season on Saturday at Texas A&M’s Ted Nelson Invitational. And for Todd Harbour, this opening warm-up lap is mostly about avoiding a future trip to the training room.
“For me, I just want to come out healthy,” Harbour said. “Because what other sport gives their athletes three weeks off during the Christmas break and then expects them to come back and be ready to go in 10 days? Nobody does that, but we do. Our sport does.
“So, some of them are getting the kinks out, working out. Some of them had great Christmas breaks, some of them had good Christmas breaks, some of them didn’t have good Christmas breaks. That’ll all be seen this weekend, but you just want to stay healthy. If you lose a couple this week, it’s a bummer.”
Senior quarter-miler Kiana Horton has been around the block a few times. She said that when the team dispersed after finals in December, she knew better than to take the next few weeks off.
“I had a great Christmas. Very relaxing, great Christmas,” said Horton, who won the Big 12 title in the 400 during the outdoor season, despite running the 400 for the first time last year. “Got to get the workouts in, because when you come back they’re going to hit you with them.”
The 2019 year will be the bell lap for seniors like Horton and Wil London, and they’re looking for a fierce finishing kick, especially since both carry aspirations of competing at the professional level beyond Baylor.
“Wil and Kiana, two of our captains this year, and they’ll be great leaders,” Harbour said. “Both of them had outstanding seasons last year, and it’s hard to believe they’re seniors, but they are. It just goes by so fast. I know both of them have aspirations of not only having a great year this year, but also setting themselves up to run post-collegiately. So this year is a great year for them, and then we’ve got several others right behind them.”
It almost feels as though London has been wearing the green and gold since the 1990s. He committed to Baylor during his junior year at Waco High, and he’s piled up his share of bling over the past three seasons. London has been a Big 12 champion, an All-American, a medalist at international meets. He owns the program’s No. 7 indoor time (45.95) and No. 4 outdoor time (44.47) in the 400, no small feat when you’re matriculating at Quarter-Miler U.
But that NCAA title has remained just out of reach. It continues to dangle out in front of London as the one carrot he’s chasing in earnest.
“I want it bad. That’s all I’ve been wanting since I got here, but I know sometimes things don’t work that way, as we’ve seen in the past,” said London, who finished 11th indoors and eighth outdoors nationally in the 400 in 2018. “But with me not winning an NCAA championship, I’ve also won a lot of great other races in the past. As long as I can finish it out healthy, and when it comes down to those big races at NCAAs, just do what I know, and come out with a victory.”
Harbour expects a “big comeback year” out of junior sprinter Maxwell Willis, who was the Big 12 freshman of the year in 2017. Willis qualified for nationals in the 200 last year during the outdoor season, but didn’t post the same kinds of times he showed as a freshman.
Other key performers back on the men’s side include sophomore hurdler/4x400 runner Jayson Baldridge, sophomore sprinter Howard “Trey” Fields III, senior sprinter/hurdler Antwuan Musgrove, and sophomore pole vaulter Riley Richards.
Harbour believes the BU men boast more depth than they have in years, particularly in the field events.
“We’ve got a young freshman pole vaulter who’s going to open some eyes. He’s already jumping incredible in practice, KC Lightfoot,” Harbour said. “I think we’ve got a shot putter and a weight thrower who’s going to score at the conference meet. That’s been a long time since that’s happened. We’ve got two pole vaulters (who could score). We’ve got a triple jumper, long jumper. We’ve never had that in a long time. So we’re excited about that, to actually have the field part of the track and field team.”
The Baylor women could also do some damage on both the Big 12 and NCAA fronts. Horton blazed her way to an extremely successful 2018 season that included a school-record time (51.22) in the 400 during the outdoor season.
“I’m pretty motivated, and a lot of my motivation is stemming from my future,” she said. “I know this is the season that’s going to count the most and determine what happens when I’m done and cross the line at nationals outdoors. Definitely motivated, definitely ready to get after it, and just curious to see what I can accomplish again this year.”
Junior middle distance runner Aaliyah Miller dashed to Big 12 gold in the 800 during the outdoor campaign, while sophomore Morgan Stewart nabbed a conference title in the 600-yard run indoors. They’re back craving more, along with senior sprinter Taylor Bennett, the reigning Big 12 champ in the 200, senior quarter-miler Leticia “Leti” De Souza, and junior distance runner Gabby Satterlee.
“We’ve got some great leaders on both sides,” Harbour said. “I think our captains that we’ll announce today, four out of the six are seniors. So I think our leadership is in really good position. I think we’ve got three returning Big 12 champs on the ladies side and two on the men’s side, and three USA junior champions. It’s very much an elite team on both sides. So we hope to do some great things this year, and we’re excited to get the season going.”