“Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.” - John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach
Lipscomb Lady Bisons cross country coach Bill Taylor has never doubted the talent or character of his runners, but that doesn’t mean he thinks his team is guaranteed to repeat Saturday as the Atlantic Sun Conference Champion.
“I don’t think our approach will be different than it was last year,” Taylor said. “It is still going to be a battle. It is going to be fun and it is going to be competitive. We have to be ready to race.
“North Florida is a very good program and other teams are getting better, too. Mercer has a strong group. Jacksonville is always strong. Florida Gulf Coast is on its home course and has a couple of girls who could lead the way. We have tons of talent and tons of depth, but that doesn’t mean we are going to win.
This will be the second time this season that the Lady Bisons have raced on the course at Buckingham, Fla., near the campus of championship host Florida Gulf Coast. On Aug. 31, the Lady Bisons won the FGCU Invitational, placing eight runners in the top 10 including first place finisher Dani Walker.
“It is really hard to focus on one person on our team,” Taylor said. “I don’t know how a team strategizes against us in general. “We have a lot of different combinations that work for us. I think other teams have to have the race of their lives where we can have a lot of different things happen.
“Dani has been No. 9 on the team and she has been No. 1, so do you focus on her? Who knows what is going to happen? We have nine women who can finish in any order on any day. And our nine are better than most people’s four.”
Having won their first-ever A-Sun Cross Country Championship for Lipscomb last season the Lady Bisons, who have been ranked either first or second in the conference all season, are projecting a “calm” confidence.
“I think we have confidence and they also have experience,” Taylor said. “They have run as an underdog. They have run as a favorite. We also had a great track season.
“We have some knowledge about ourselves that maybe we didn’t have last year. We were trying last year to reach something we had never achieved before. While we believed last year that we could do it there was a bit of faith involved.”
It has been a rollercoaster season for the Lady Bisons, but Taylor likes where the team is this week from both a mental and physical standpoint.
“I think we are quite motivated right now,” Taylor said. “It would be hard for me to imagine a team in our conference that is better prepared physically.
“But it is the six inches at the top of your head that determine everything. If we use those six inches right it is going to take something amazing to beat us if we are on. But you don’t know what is going to happen.”
Taylor gave his runners a conference preview a week ago. He doesn’t think a lot can be done a few days before a big meet.
“They have to know what they are going to do and believe they can do it,” Taylor said. “They have to go out and execute a plan. They have to know they can handle whatever happens.
“We have some advantages. We know the course. It kind of goes back to confidence. We didn’t just go down there and run a race. We practiced on it four or five times. We did more training that week than we usually would.”
This year’s team includes only four of the members of the championship team - Tessa Hoefle, Minna Fields, Missy Dowd and Maggie Lawrence. All four finished in the top five on the team at the 2011 conference championship.
Walker and Kendra Lobley were both sidelined by injuries last season. But during the spring track season Walker ran a 16:38 5-K and Lobley posted a 16:41, the fastest 5,000-meter times on the team. Lobley is also the defending A-Sun outdoor track champion in both the 5-K and the steeplechase.
“On paper this is both a good returning group and a team with powerful proven additions we didn't have last year,” Taylor said. “On paper we are a lot faster, more talented, more experienced, and deeper than last year. It will be a great race.”
The race will begin at 7:45 a .m. CST. The top seven runners will earn A-Sun All-Conference honors and the next seven finishers will earn second team. The first five freshmen will be named to the A-Sun All-Freshman team.
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.