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NO BARRIERS: Baylor's Hurdlers Rank as Big 12's Best Group

May 15, 2014

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

When you have an All-American hurdler who's been the runner-up at the NCAA Indoor Championships three times, the spotlight automatically falls on Tiffani McReynolds.

As part of a corps of Baylor hurdlers that has produced the Big 12's best times in the women's 100- and men's 110-meter hurdles and the No. 2 time in the 400 hurdles, McReynolds is now sharing that spotlight.

McReynolds is still there, ranked No. 1 in the conference and fourth nationally with the 12.87 time she posted two weeks ago at the Longhorn Invitational. But she's got company with sophomores Bryce Grace and Taije Jordan in the shorter-distance hurdles and TJ Holmes in the men's 400 hurdles.

"The whole group, we look at each other as family," said Grace, who sits at the top of the Big 12 rankings and eighth nationally with the personal-best time of 13.64 in the 110 hurdles going into this weekend's Big 12 Outdoor Championships in Lubbock, Texas. "We've kind of built that closeness up over the last couple of years. And it's a good thing, because we really support each other."

After injuries wiped out most of her last two outdoor seasons, the tiny McReynolds has come back with a vengeance this year to finish second in the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA Indoor Championships and rank among the nation's best again in the 100 hurdles.

"I'd say this is probably the best I've been since my freshman year," McReynolds said. "And even my freshman year, since I was getting used to the program, I still had some bumps and bruises. But this year, I've been blessed and haven't had anything. Looking back on two years ago, and even this past year when I had to completely sit out, it's just such a blessing to be able to compete for a whole season."

Associate coach Mike Ford, who works with the hurdlers and sprinters, said his biggest concern coming into this year was just keeping McReynolds healthy. To that end, she ran on grass a lot in the fall and used the anti-gravity treadmills "just to keep the pounding off her legs."

"The problem with her is she's about 95 pounds, but she has a big motor," Ford said. "So, we kind of backed off a little bit on the speed work early on, and I think that's helped her. I just wanted to keep her healthy the whole year, and as it's turned out, it's worked out really well."

While she ran a school-record 12.74 as a freshman, McReynolds has gotten back under 13 this year, running 12.98 at the Florida Relays and then popping the 12.87 time in Austin. She also ran the 100-meter dash for the first time this year, posting a 11.35 time that ranks fourth in the Big 12 and 20th nationally.

"I think it just showed that the work I've been putting in is starting to finally pay off," McReynolds said. "Just the tweaks in form and all the stuff I was doing in practice, it's all coming together. Before, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to stay under 13 (seconds). And when I was at UT, I just went out there and competed and had a fun time. I enjoyed myself again. And I feel like that was a part of the reason why I ran so fast."

Asked about her expectation for this weekend's conference meet, McReynolds doesn't hesitate.

"To take it, of course," said McReynolds, a four-time conference champion in the indoor 60-meter hurdles. "When I came in as a freshman, I wanted to take everything. And when I was able to take indoor and outdoor at conference as a freshman, I was like, 'OK, I'm trying to go 4-for-4.' Injuries have prevented the four outdoors, so I'm trying to get at least two of four outdoors."

Nipping at her heels is Jordan, who came to Baylor last year with a better PR time after breaking McReynolds' mark at the Texas A&M high school meet. The sophomore from Lancaster, Texas, is ranked fourth in the Big 12 in the 100 hurdles with a time of 13.22.

"She got hurt probably midway through the season last year and we didn't get her back in time for Big 12s," Ford said of Jordan. "But I think training-wise, she's looking a lot better. That first year, we were just trying to get all the high school-isms out of her system. I think her big thing is if she keeps her mechanics good, she'll run fast. Where Tiffani is all speed, Taije is more of a technician. And if she's technically sound, she'll run fast."

After coming in with a personal-best time of 13.70 in the 110-meter hurdles, Grace had some of those same issues last year as a freshman. He earned All-Big 12 honors, finishing fifth in the 110 hurdles and running a season-best time of 13.94.

This year, he's consistently been under 14 seconds and beat his previous collegiate best by three-tenths of a second with a winning time of 13.64 at the Longhorn Invitational.

"Going into the race, I knew if I just executed right, I would PR," Grace said. "My start was the best I've had all year. And then as far as over the hurdles, I was clean; I didn't hit a hurdle. I executed exactly the way Coach Ford wanted me to execute. . . . When I crossed the finish line and saw 13.6, I knew it was good."

Ford said the key for Grace is not to worry about who's in the race or even about running fast. "Once you forget about that, then you can run fast and the times will come. He was like, 'Man, I felt like I was running slow. And you look, and he PRs by three-tenths."

Like McReynolds, Grace's goal this weekend is to win.

"If I execute like I did (in Austin), there is no reason why I shouldn't win," he said. "Just go in humble, don't be too confident in myself. I have to make sure I execute everything right, get a good start and stay clean over the hurdles. If I can do that, I should be one of the top guys to win it."

One of the top freshmen in the nation, Holmes is ranked second in the Big 12 and 27th nationally in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 51.18. The Florida state champion ran a personal-best time of 50.61 as a senior in high school last year, but he said he's running better this season under the tutelage of legendary coach Clyde Hart and is capable of breaking 50 at the Big 12 meet.

"I definitely think I can do it," he said. "I just have to push a little harder and don't think too much about the technique and make sure I get over the hurdles and keep my speed going to the next hurdle."

Baylor's last conference champion in the 400-meter hurdles was a freshman named Robert Griffin III, who went on to finish third at the NCAA meet before winning the 2011 Heisman Trophy and being the second pick overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.

"I've tried to look him up (on YouTube), but I couldn't find anything," Holmes said of RG3. "Coach Hart is always talking to me about him, though, and saying he was one of the best here in the hurdles. He thinks I can be in the NCAA finals."

Holmes could also get there in the 4x400-meter relay The quartet of Holmes, Isaiah Duke, Brandon Moore and Blake Heriot is ranked second in the Big 12 and ninth nationally with a time of 3:05.20.

"Being on the 4x4 is a great privilege, because so many great runners have been on it," he said. "And when I'm on it, it makes me really hyped, and I put my all into it to do the best I can. . . . Every race makes me nervous. But once I get the baton, I don't think about it anymore and I just run."

Big points in the hurdles could help Baylor, and particularly the women, compete for a Big 12 team championship. The Baylor women are ranked 14th nationally and are chasing No. 2 Texas, while the men are 13th and ranked behind Oklahoma State (5th), Texas Tech (6th) and Texas (10th).

"We're just going to have to hit," said head coach Todd Harbour. "We don't have as many opportunities on the men's side as we do with the ladies. The Texas women are first, and they're out there. We're going to have to have a Herculean performance to beat them, but you can't tell our women that they can't, because they believe they can do it. Texas is one of the top teams in the country, maybe one of the best conference teams I've ever seen."

The meet begins at 11 a.m. Friday at Texas Tech's Fuller Track and Field Complex with the men's decathlon, women's heptathlon and the men's and women's hammer. Finals will be held in the 10,000 meters Friday night, with the three-day meet wrapping up with running finals Sunday night.

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