By Marquis Cooley | Reporter
This year, Baylor track & field has been blessed with a strong freshman class that has made an immediate impact on the team.
Hurdler Ackera Nugent has brought an indoor national title and set a world record in her first season. Sprinters Dillon Bedell, Chris DuPree, Lily Williams and Kavia Francis have been huge boosts on their respective 4×400-meter relay teams, helping them win conference championships as well as making it to indoor nationals, while also having their own success in individual events.
“It’s a blessing for sure,” Williams said. “I knew coming in here that we were going to have an amazing class, and we’re a really strong freshman class, and we’re mixing really well with the strong leaders of the upperclassmen. It’s been a really awesome time to just grow and learn from each other, and hopefully we’ll continue to do that.”
Bedell said he remembers being extremely nervous during the five hour bus ride to Texas Tech for his first meet in January after finding out he was the lead runner in the 4×400 meter relay. While he may not have those same nerves anymore, he said it’s still a surreal experience getting to compete at this level.
“Just two years ago, I was watching these people, looking up to them, and now I’m racing against them and beating some of them,” Bedell said. “And I know that I have four years left, so just knowing that I’m right here, now, I’m excited as to what is going to happen later.”
Despite the success the freshmen have had so far, there’s still moments where they get a little starstruck. Williams, who ran anchor for the eighth place women’s 4×400 meter relay at the 2021 Indoor National Championships, said she was shocked to see who she was competing against.
“It was so crazy because you see all those girls that you see all the time on MileSplit or on Instagram and on FloTrack,” Williams said. “You see them all. They’re there in front of you, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m competing on the same stage as them.’ It was insane and an amazing learning experience and something that now drives us to want to go back there.”
While at times it may seem like an unbelievable moment for the freshmen, the upperclassmen are always there to have their back and remind them they belong.
“Every day at practice, we’ll always talk about how we can get better in this race,” Bedell said. “We’ll always push each other, and then when we get to the meet and get to the races they tell me, ‘Just relax, you can do this. You can compete with these guys.’ So it’s awesome looking up to them and learning from them.”
But it’s not just about competing and winning individual awards and accolades. Bedell said he would much rather win the team awards so everyone can celebrate together.
“My main goal is just being All-American and doing what I can do for my team,” Bedell said. “If I can make it in the individual 400-meter, that’s good enough, but I want to have my teammates there so we can all celebrate. So, if we can all just drop and stay healthy and do what we need to do to be able to get that team championship and get that ring, that’ll just put a cherry on top of everything.”
That sense of team spirit is what has helped the freshmen mesh so well with the rest of the team and why the 4×400-meter relay is Williams’ favorite event.
“I love team spirit, and I think that relays are an essence of team spirit,” Williams said. “I love being able to support everyone in their individual events, and ultimately that’s what we’re here to work on, is honing in on our individual things. But when we can all come together and put all of our pieces together, I think that that’s a really incredible thing to have and almost more admirable than just one person in a race, when you have four people doing everything perfectly.”
It’s not all about winning for the young runners, it’s about giving their all every single day so they don’t have any regrets.
“I think that if you can look back and confidently say that you tried your hardest, I think that that’s an amazing thing,” Williams said. “I don’t know if a lot of people can really look back and say, ‘Oh I tried extremely hard every single day.’ The people that are able to say that have gone really far places. I want to be on a path of mastery over a path of winning, so if mastery in one meet looks like just honing in on a key component of a race, then that’s what it’s going to look like. And eventually, once all those key components come in, maybe that medal will come into view.”
The freshmen also want to leave a legacy at Baylor that’ll make it a powerhouse track & field school for years to come.
“I want to be one of the greatest 400-meter runners to come through Baylor,” Bedell said. “I want to make Baylor that dominant name, ‘Quarter-Mile U’ to where nobody can compare other schools to us.”