By George Schroeder | LTVN Executive Producer
Since the formation of the conference in 1996, Baylor cross country has never won the Big 12, but that isn’t stopping the Bears from taking on a familiar course Friday in Lubbock — and they’re excited to do it.
“I mean, this is everything,” sophomore Drew Snyder said. “We don’t have the big events — 60,000 people in attendance all the time. These events like Big 12s and regionals, nationals, are really the bread and butter of our sport.”
In the past 26 years, Baylor’s competition has not made those races easy.
The men’s team hasn’t cracked the top five since 2003, and that accounts for one of only two top-five finishes in the program’s history; the other was a fourth-place finish in 2001.
The women’s team has seen more success. It last achieved a top-five mark in 2017 and has finished in fifth or higher 13 times.
So, Baylor cross country historically doesn’t have the best track record for Big 12 finishes. Regardless, head coach David Barnett said the key for both teams is to be competitive when the gun fires this week.
“You can’t be reacting,” Barnett said. “You have to be the one putting the pressure on other people, so that’s where we’re definitely going to try and do the first half of the race.”
Both teams raced on the championship course earlier this year — although only fifth-year senior Ryan Hodge and freshman Caleb Ackman ran for the men’s team — so they know the course.
“Little things like that give you a competitive edge,” Snyder said.
Course knowledge is “one less thing to worry about,” according to Barnett. In cross country, literal tenths of seconds can be the difference between winning and losing, so the teams will take any advantage they can get.
Knowing the route won’t be enough by itself to conquer the conference. Recently, graduate students Ellie Hodge and Ryan Day have been leading the way for the Bears, but Barnett said his focus is on the next four runners.
“We just need them to work together,” Barnett said. “It doesn’t really matter who happens to be feeling better that day, as long as collectively, we’re getting from point A to point B as close as possible.”
Sophomore Cate Urbani said the team has been training to do just that.
“We’re still working on at practices and the races just staying together as a pack,” Urbani said. “All six of us, since we train together, we know we can race the other. Staying together as a pack and using that to be ahead of other teams, I think is a big advantage.”
Keeping the green and gold close together may be critical for the Bears on Friday. According to Snyder, running with teammates can make all the difference.
“They’re having a good day, and you may not be feeling as good, but you know that you can hang with them,” Snyder said. “That really does wonders to the mentality of running and the mentality of racing.”
The Bears will duke it out with the rest of the conference on Friday in Lubbock. With a pack mentality, Barnett thinks his team can take down their Big 12 competition in the championship meet.
“I’m excited because I know the work’s already been done,” Barnett said. “It all comes down to this.”