NASHVILLE – For the second straight season, the Lipscomb cross country squad will be heading to Boston to take part in the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown.
"We got a good taste of this meet last year,” Lipscomb Director of Cross Country and Track and Field said. “So we are coming back to a race we have experience with. It's always nice when you have some familiarity with the course and have competed against these teams before.”
Among the nationally-ranked teams the Bisons will be taking on in the competitive field are Georgetown (4th-ranked), Providence (8th), Syracuse (19th) and Dartmouth (25th).
"We don't see most of these teams much in Cross Country, but we do compete against their top athletes regularly in track, at the big meets and at National Prelims and Finals,” Taylor said. “So the competition isn't unknown to us.
"This is a good, strong meet with at least seven teams here that could qualify for nationals at the end of the season. It's not as good as it was last year though. So we need to be on our game and in the right places. It sets up for us to take big advantage of a race that we can totally compete well with the top teams.”
Lipscomb heads into the match as the top team in the Atlantic Sun, ranked fourth in the South Region and having received national rankings votes for the first time in program history.
"I would love to come away feeling like we have some at-large points in the bank,” Taylor said. “I think that is kind of the bonus though. We just want to compete equally with the top teams. We want to look the part. We have an amazing team with unlimited potential. It's an opportunity to realize and use that potential. This is why we train and dream.”
Lipscomb is only sending its women’s team for the Battle in Beantown. Juniors Barbara Lee Ball and Sally Larson have started off the season strong, with Ball winning the first A-Sun Runner of the Week honor of the season. Freshmen Kelly Nesky and Brooke Kingma have also impressed early on.
"Our top group can finish in any order,” Taylor said. “Barbara Lee and Sally stood out in the first two meets. We have two freshmen so far that have run incredible. Brooke Kingma and Kelli Neski have been tough and have just inserted themselves into the top of our roster. Paige Stoner has been right up there. She is ready for a breakthrough race.
The women will be racing in two different groups, with the first group housing several runners who could place high for Lipscomb.
"Not far behind the top 5, are a number of girls who could be in the mix at any moment,” Taylor said. “Transfer Kate Bucknam has been right there, just off the top 5 in the first two races. Madi Talbert, who has been our number-one runner, has been battling low iron issues. She will be a major factor when she solves that and is able to rise back up to where she has always been in the past. Hopefully we see a big step forward for her this weekend.”
Taylor believes that this is the deepest team Lipscomb has had during his tenure with the Bisons, and the amount of talent on display this weekend will be a factor of that.
"Then we have another freshman just a bit further back in Lauren Dunnell. Lauren is going to be really good. She is just learning and figuring this out. Once she decides she can do this as well as anyone, look out. We also have two veterans in Katie Bianchini and Minna Fields that could move up into the top group at any time. It's the most depth we have ever had, and there are so many combinations that can work for us.”
Taylor hopes the second race will also provide a chance for runners to gain experience running at the front of the pack.
"We have a second group of women going later in the day Friday,” Taylor said. “It's a bit slower race, which is the perfect opportunity for many of them to step up, compete at the front of a race, and take themselves to a new level. It's the same course, so it's great for us to be able to compare and make roster decisions. I'm really excited to see that group race and to see who will take that next leap forward.”
As the season moves forward, Taylor and his squad want to improve at some aspect during every race no matter what the outcome is.
"With the top group we are working on positioning and pack,” Taylor said. “Times don't matter in cross country. It's all about racing, and to win as a team, it means racing as a team. While we want results now of course, what we are really looking for is smart, aggressive, courageous team racing.
“I want to see our girls be relaxed and bold, in position, and most of all, selling out completely for each other. I want to see them find that extra whatever it is to see their team succeed. If they follow the plan and fight with all they have for each other to the finish, we come out of here feeling very, very good, no matter the score or results."
The race will begin at 3 p.m. on Friday.