TUSCALOOSA, Ala. –A pair of Atlantic Sun Conference Championships served as a tasty postseason appetizer for the Lipscomb Lady Bisons and Bisons cross country teams.
Friday morning they get to enjoy the main entree when each team participates in the NCAA South Region Championships hosted by the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The races will be run on the Harry Pritchett Cross Country Course.
Bill Taylor, Lipscomb’s director of cross country and track and field, is hopeful that his teams will have room for dessert with berths in the NCAA Nationals.
“I want to win,” Taylor said. “I want to do well. I want to qualify for nationals. Both teams have a chance to go to nationals. I have never been able to say that before.
“But at the end of the day whether we qualify or not is not why I coach. That is not why they run.”
Florida State is ranked first in the region on the women’s side followed by Florida, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. The Lady Bisons are ranked seventh.
On the men’s side the top three teams are Florida, Georgia and Florida State. The Bisons are rated fifth.
The women, three time winners of the A-Sun Championship, will face a field of 35 teams. There are 27 men’s teams scheduled to compete.
“Our best finish in the women’s race in the region is seventh,” Taylor said. “We are kind of going in a little beat up. We have sickness. We have rolled ankles. We have a foot injury. We have been hit with a series of strange injuries on the women’s side.
“I don’t know where we are. But the girls are in good spirits. They are fairly relaxed.”
The emotional state of the team has been on the minds of Taylor and his staff. After watching the men win their first ever A-Sun Cross Country Championship, Taylor sensed the women were a little more tense than normal before their race began. He addressed his concerns with the women later that night.
“We met as a team and talked about it,” Taylor said. “They weren’t really aware they had been tense. But as we talked and it started coming out, we finally understood why. I think we got too worked up about results. We have to remember why we do this.
“We do it for the joy of it. We do it to be around each other. We have such great kids. There is such an amazing team environment here. At the end of the day we always have each other.”
Taylor thinks the women’s team, feeling the burden of having won the conference championship the previous two years, came Into the Sun meet fixated on what would happen if they didn’t win.
“They put pressure on themselves and took away a lot of the joy of that race,” Taylor said. “I want them to have a good time at the regions and still be focused and do their best.
“I want them to have the freedom to do well or not do well and not have it define us. I don’t know how it is going to go on Friday for either team. I want their best effort. That’s it.”
Five Lady Bisons finished in the top 10 in the A-Sun Championship at the Vaughn’s Gap course at Percy Warner Park. Freshman Sally Larson was fourth followed by senior Tessa Hoefle (fifth), sophomore Madi Talbert (sixth), junior Dani Walker (seventh) and freshman Hannah Feiten (10th).
The Bisons also placed five runners in the top five. Freshman Juan Gonzalez was second and freshman Christian Freeman crossed the finish line in third. Sophomore Daniel Gardner placed fifth, freshman John Kingstedt was seventh and senior Tim Muller was ninth.
Only the top two teams qualify for the nationals for the men and the women. The top eight individuals qualify.
The course for the South Region is a former golf course. Taylor is no stranger to the course.
“It is a beautiful course,” Taylor said. “It is rolling. The fairways have grown up. The water traps are still there. It is one of my favorite courses in terms of how it looks.
“We have run there four times. But not many of our runners have run there before.”
One of the team goals for the women all season has been to make it to the nationals. Taylor is concerned about the injury situation though.
“The positive thing is from everything I hear is we are not the only team with injuries,” Taylor said. “A lot of the top teams are beat up and haven’t had the seasons they were expecting.
“Even though we have had a tough year in terms of that stuff we are not alone. So it is kind of an even deal. That is why we run the race.”