NASHVILLE, Tenn.-Coach Bill Taylor is sending the Lipscomb Lady Bisons south this Saturday for a highly-competitive meet.
Seven teams regionally ranked in the South region and one regionally ranked team from the South Central region will be among the 15 teams participating Saturday morning in the Crimson Classic in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The 5-K women’s race will begin at 9:10 at the Harry Pritchett Running Course near the Alabama Arboretum.
"We are pretty excited about this meet,” Taylor said. “There should be solid competition. At the same time, it will be really nice to be in a smaller field with much more moderate competition than we have faced.
“Toledo and Louisville were big, dense fast races with seven or more nationally-ranked teams in each. It was just a bit too much for where we are as a program right now. We got beat up in those two races, but we are going to be far better for it both now and in the future. As of today though I see everything where it needs to be in our progression."
The Lady Bisons slipped to second this week in the Atlantic Sun poll, but they only trail North Florida by one point.
"Based on how we have raced and how North Florida has raced, we should be ranked second right now. I don't have a problem with that at all. Fortunately, rankings don't determine the actual results and I don't think our girls even notice the rankings. We don't talk about them."
Taylor wants to see a tougher mental approach from his runners, the defending Atlantic Sun Champions, this week. The conference meet is Oct. 27.
"Physical preparation hasn't been a problem,” Taylor said. “We've had great practices all season. Our issues have been mental...being a team that won the A-Sun last year and wanting to be a nationals team this year. So the A-Sun wasn't really on their minds in the last two meets. It wasn't a motivator like it was last year.”
Taylor knows his team has the ability to win the conference again and to go to nationals in November. But his runners have been put in a position where the expectations for the program have quickly increased.
"The girls haven't been mentally ready for that next level,” Taylor said. “They have the talent to go to nationals, but you have to develop the mentality and confidence too. That is a process, especially for a program that has risen as quickly as we have.
“In some ways our achievements and expectations have outpaced our mental development. But that is coming around. It's simply a process and while we don't want to go get hammered by a bunch of strong teams, we have to do that so we can change and grow and go to that next level. We have to be patient.”
In an effort to determine what level is runners may have reached this season he challenged them with back-to-back meets against fields with several nationally-ranked teams at both Toledo and Louisville.
"We went through a very tough two week stretch,” Taylor said. “If Toledo had gone better, Louisville would have been better too. But we got knocked around at Toledo, and then the next weekend had to face tougher competition. It shook us and it wasn't enough time to change ourselves. I don't have a problem with that.
"So we have been working on the mental aspects. The girls have been responding. And that is also manifesting itself physically. While our practices have been terrific all season, they have been at a whole new level the past two weeks. Not just fast, but confident and powerful. Every indication is that mentally the girls are back on track.”
Taylor acknowledges that in a physically grueling sport like cross country the mental aspect of competition is the toughest part.
“They know they are a powerful team,” Taylor said. “You can't suddenly get talented. You're not going to suddenly get team depth where you haven't previously. And physical preparation must happen in a logical progression that takes time.
“We have talent, depth and are the most physically prepared team I have ever coached. So now it's just being there mentally. You always wonder if the mental part will stand in the way or take the team to the next level. What I'm seeing along those lines is very good right now. We are close."
Lipscomb and North Florida have been in the top two slots in the conference poll all season. With North Florida moving ahead of the Lady Bisons by a nose down the stretch Taylor is wondering what it all will mean in the conference meet.
"The facts are evident about how good we are,” Taylor said. “You can't train like we do and not have the ability to race really fast. It's nice that we are ranked second. Any pressure is reduced a bit for us, not that we would care if we were ranked first...or third.
“Maybe that gives North Florida confidence. I don't have a problem if it does...they've earned that. Maybe it adds pressure knowing that they are expected to win. The thing is, our performance and success aren't about North Florida, they are about us. “
Taylor is more concerned about the performances of each of his runners than he is the overall placement of the team in the meet. He would, however, like to head into the A-Sun meet on a strong, positive note.
“This weekend we are simply looking for improvement in some key performance and mentality areas,” Taylor said. “We don't have to win the meet, and in so many ways this meet doesn't matter, other than that it can be a mental boost. Beyond that, it is just a practice.
"Certainly you would prefer to go in with a nice performance in the final meet. At the same time this team can do anything. They know how to win. They've run fast times. They've been the underdog. The training is right. We have a team that can win so many different ways.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.