No. 3 Men's Track and Field committed to team building
Jan. 17, 2013
Elissa Schneiderman, Texas Media Relations
AUSTIN, Texas - The No. 3 Men's Track and Field team came together in competition for the first time this season last Friday with a visit to top-ranked Arkansas. While the Razorbacks edged Texas, 85-78, in the dual meet, the Longhorns are optimistic not only about individual performances, but also regarding the future of the team as a whole.
"It was really a nice start for us," head coach Bubba Thornton said. "We had a lot of good things happen. As a team, we showed what we have, and now it's time to improve on each part of that."
Thornton pointed to certain individual performances at Arkansas, including senior Keiron Stewart's first-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles. Stewart's time of 7.74 was good enough to rank him second nationally for the season and earn him Big 12 Men's Track and Field Athlete of Week.
Stewart, senior thrower Hayden Baillio, who secured a top finish of his own in the shot put, sophomore Kyle Thompson, who won the 800-meter race, and Craig Lutz, who finished first in the 3,000 meters, along with many other veteran Longhorns, form a solid foundation for a squad which has 10 All-Americans and finished seventh at the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships.
In addition, newcomers like senior Joe Stilin, as well as freshmen Zack Bilderback and Reese Watson, are already making an immediate impact. Stilin, a transfer from Princeton with one season of indoor eligibility remaining, won the mile run at Arkansas and was a member of the first-place distance medley relay. Watson placed fourth in the pole vault, while Bilderback finished third in the 400 meters and was a member of the second-place 4x400-meter relay.
"We felt like Zack was very competitive," Thornton said. "He showed a lot of confidence, a lot of courage and a lot of trust in what we've been talking about. You can tell he's going to be a real asset to the team."
While track and field is fundamentally made up of individual performances, Thornton and his staff are focused on developing a strong, unified team atmosphere so that the Longhorns may meet their lofty team-wide goals.
"We teach and coach, but it's not any different than living in a community," Thornton said. "You've got 50 different personalities and all have different goals and are thinking different things. We've got to bring all of that together to make this a team and to have a common goal."
Borrowing from John F. Kennedy's celebrated saying, Thornton said he asks his athletes what they can do to help their team reach common goals, rather than focus on what the team can do for them as individuals.
"Each individual is only as good as our whole team," Thornton said. "If we keep this team heading in the right direction, then we can get back on the podium as the conference champions, and that is our goal." Thornton's message is getting through to his athletes. Junior distance runner Ryan Dohner, a two-time All-American, said that this season a poster board is on display in the team's locker room urging each Longhorn to sign his name as a demonstration of commitment and as a promise that he'll put everything he has towards the common goal of winning the Big 12 Conference.
"I think guys are really committed this year," Dohner said. "I've seen a progression in commitment since my freshman year. It extends to stuff outside of practice--guys are more strict and disciplined."
Stewart, who has earned four career All-America honors, also observed increased dedication among his teammates. He said it was clear that many of the Longhorns took the time to work out diligently over winter break and as a result, are in better competitive shape early in the season.
The Longhorns also believe that there is an elevated individual talent level this year, which, in turn, helps improve the team.
"It helps a lot because when you have guys who are faster than you, they're going to push you a lot harder in practice," Dohner said. "You can only go to a certain level sometimes by yourself."
Ultimately, for Texas to be successful and meet its goal of winning the Big 12 and moving on to the NCAA meet, each athlete is going to have to perform at a high level and strive to make individual improvements.
"Going into every meet, we're just going to be trying to win everything," Stewart said. "The goal for everyone is to best their mark from the previous meet."