By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
No. 8 Baylor track and field has a plethora of entries for the NCAA Outdoor Championships meet, set for June 8-11 in Eugene, Ore., and head coach Michael Ford said he knows his squad will have to perform at the highest level.
“I always say, ‘You have to have the perfect race,’” Ford said. “They’ll have to have the perfect race, perfect jump or perfect throw to get on the podium.”
With those high expectations, the first-year head coach said he still thinks all 10 of his contestants “have a good shot to make it through the final.”
The Bears are bringing all four of their relay teams to Hayward Field in Eugene — a goal Ford and the group had at the beginning of the season. Last year, only three of the four relay teams advanced to nationals.
To achieve that feat, Ford said he is happy to “show the nation that we are good in the 4×100 and the 4×400 [relays],” and he is using that as a recruiting pitch.
“If you come to Baylor, you can do both [relays] and make it to nationals,” Ford said.
Junior sprinter Mariah Ayers said she is also proud to boost Baylor’s national prestige with all the relay success.
“A lot of schools don’t do that, so it puts Baylor on the map and shows people that we can do it too,” Ayers said.
Fifth-year senior sprinter and long jumper Caira Pettway echoed that thought, saying “it’s pretty cool to witness.”
“We’ve never brought this many people, either,” Pettway said. “So it’s cool to see us all make history and reach our individual goals too.”
Pettway is competing in the long jump, 100-meter dash and the 4×100-meter relay. It’s safe to say she will be busy across the three-day slate, but she said this isn’t anything new for her. Bouncing around between the three events will be “like a normal event” because she’s “used to it.”
Having done multiple meets like that, Pettway said she believes it will allow her to settle into the championship atmosphere.
“It’ll help me not get as much in my head, because it’ll feel like any other meet that I’ve done since I’ve done it at every other meet,” Pettway said. “I’m hoping that’ll keep me calm and keep my head on different things.”
Unfortunately, some won’t get the chance to compete for a national championship due to injury. This is the case for sophomore sprinter Ackera Nugent, who placed third last year and was an indoor national champion.
Ford said that in his eyes, while it’s a shame to lose her, he’s keeping a next-man-up mentality in her absence. He also said either of the two sophomore sprinters, Bria Bullard or Kavia Francis, will replace her in the quarter-mile relay.
“Definitely a big loss,” Ford said. “Now, we look at it as the next woman steps up to fill that void. The other ladies know what they need to do to do well on the relay.”
Standout freshman jumper and hurdler Johnny Brackins is taking a different approach to nationals. Brackins said that he doesn’t set many expectations and that the biggest thing is to execute properly, in both his jumps and his hurdle races.
“Ultimately, if I can just go out there and compete healthy and execute everything correctly, I know I’ll place well,” the Missouri native said. “And potentially, I could snag a title in the long jump. Hurdles, I’ll have to do something crazy when I get up there, but I’m capable of it. Overall, personal records, of course, is what I want overall. But if I can execute everything efficiently, I’ll be OK.”
Baylor has a few more days to rest and prepare for the meet at Hayward, where either ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU will be providing broadcast coverage. The NCAA Outdoor Championships begin June 8 and finish June 11 — each of the three days being an all-day competition.
Ford said he is glad to have minimized injuries in order to showcase the group at its best come Wednesday.
“Everybody’s back and healthy, so we’re looking forward to watching them compete Wednesday and Thursday,” Ford said.