NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Lipscomb women’s cross country squad knows what the top of the Atlantic Sun Conference feels like. The new goal, to learn what running at the NCAA National meet feels like.
Returning the top-seven performers from a year ago, Taylor thinks the goal is attainable.
“It gives us a huge advantage,” Bill Taylor, director of cross country and track and field, said. “We clearly won last year, we didn’t win huge but it wasn’t close. Returning those seven makes us a year stronger and a year smarter which is a huge advantage.”
The Lady Bisons are led by All A-Sun athletes Dani Walker and Tessa Hoefle on the first team and Kendra Lobley, Madi Talbert, Maggie Lawrence and Minna Fields on the second team.
Walker is returning from an injury suffered during the track season but Taylor isn’t worried about the injury or having the team leader out there.
“Dani had a freak injury but is back,” Taylor said. “She has been our leader. We are hitching our wagon to her but she won’t be alone. We have Madi and she has the confidence from nationals last year. She is ultra-talented and is just figuring things out. Tessa has experience and has shown that she is capable of being up there.
“It is going to be a really good group. Going into the season we really don’t have any idea of the order everyone will be and every week it could be completely different.”
With the ability of only being able to run nine girls per meet, Taylor thinks there will be fierce competition within the team each week for those nine spots.
“We could have 19, 20, 21 women that have the ability to be in the top nine,” Taylor said. “We won’t have any drama though. The girls see this as a team and love each other. They accept where their position is. We have a healthy competitive environment.”
Making the competition even stiffer is the stellar recruiting class Taylor has brought in this year. It is a class that he calls historical for Lipscomb.
The Purple and Gold landed Wake Forest transfer Meredtih Kilburn. The sophomore gained valuable experience at Wake Forest but comes to Lipscomb with the potential to be even better.
“She was a great high school runner and ran a sub-11,” Taylor said. “Her Wake Forest career was good but not as good as she is capable of. She made their top seven, ran at conference and ran at the regional championships. She is talented and comes in with big race experience already.”
Lipscomb also added two Footlocker National Finalists in Katie Bianchini and Kendra Weitz.
“Katie was on a team where she was the number two runner,” Taylor said. “The top runner was one of the best in the nation. I think Katie was a top runner as well but was always number two. She was part of a really great program at Glacier Peak High School and has a chance to make the top group.
“Kendra was a finalist two years ago and ran a 10:20 which is incredibly fast for a girl. She has had some health issues in the past, so we are not going to rush her. If she contributes this year, great, but we want to give her every opportunity to have an amazing career here. We will error on the side of caution.”
The Lady Bisons also added Lipscomb Academy graduate Barbara Lee Ball who was a three-time Tennessee State Cross Country Champion.
“We have gotten to see her quite a bit,” Taylor said. “She is tough as nails with high desire and pretty good range. She will fight for her spot. She is going to do well. She will improve and will make other people better as well.”
Although Taylor is excited about his talented group of freshmen, he cautiously points out that the success of this season does not hinge on their performance.
“Traditionally freshman have done very well for us,” Taylor said. “However, none of these girls have to be in the top seven for us to do well. We return our top seven. There is no pressure on them to perform.
“We are going to be a really good team no matter how you look at it. The freshmen are just really free to run and see how good they can be.”
Looking to reach their third consecutive A-Sun Championship the Lady Bisons will not be under pressure to do so. In fact, Taylor thinks there will be even less pressure than the previous two years, allowing the women to just run.
“The first year we were trying to do it for the first time,” Taylor said. “North Florida was a rival for us, they looked a lot better most of the year and had beaten us the previous year. Last year trying to repeat, people were trying to psychologically get under our skin.
“This year we feel a sense of relief. There is so much confidence. We have other goals regarding conference now. We still have to take care of conference, but we are gearing toward the South Region.
With the goals now towards the region and national meet, Taylor thinks he has the team to do it.
“Our goal is to go to nationals,” Taylor said. “Our goal is to win nationals. These girls buy into that. They are 100 percent committed to that.”
Lipscomb gets its season underway Aug. 30 at the site of the 2013 A-Sun Championship at Percy Warner Park. The race is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.