Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Rise of the Lipscomb Lady Bisons

One week before the start of the 2007 season, Bill Taylor took over as the head coach of the men’s and women’s cross country programs at Lipscomb. As the Bisons entered their fifth year in the Atlantic Sun back in 2007, Lipscomb’s best finish at an A-Sun Cross Country Championship came in 2005 with Lipscomb’s men placing fifth and women racing to sixth place from 2005-06.

Nowadays, Lipscomb owns six A-Sun Cross Country titles (four women, two men) after the Bisons swept the league trophies in 2013 and 2014, while the women own four-straight championship titles dating back to 2011.

The change didn’t occur overnight for the Nashville based program as Lipscomb’s first top-three performance didn’t come until 2010, when the women’s squad finished as the runner-up to North Florida at Spartanburg, S.C.’s Milliken Research Park.

“It has been a group effort to really grow this program,” said Taylor. “There are plenty of runners who have stepped up for us over the years. Dani Walker has been huge. She was part of a class that really saw this program make a turnaround.”

Dani Walker was a member of the 2010 A-Sun Championship Runner-Up team as she earned Freshman of the Year honors by placing fourth as the Bisons set program records for best team & individual finish.

“It’s amazing from when I came in the program. When Coach Taylor was recruiting me, he stressed that Lipscomb was so close to a Cinderella type story. He stressed how close we really were to being that top team,” Walker stated. “Now, Nationals is the true goal for our team.

One year later, the 2011 A-Sun Championship headed to their home course, Vaughn’s Gap at Percy Warner Park, where the Lady Bisons placed seven runners among the top-21 competitors including All-Conference performances from Tessa Hoefle (5th), Ashley Lehman (6th) and Minna Fields (9th) to defeat the Ospreys by 14 points and capture the conference crown.

“The first one is always special. It put us on the map and made the student-athletes believe,” reminisced Taylor of 2011. “This year, although completely different, is still truly special. We won and we ran our best race. I could not ask for anything more.”

Since that first title, the Lady Bisons haven’t looked back at the field as Lipscomb won the 2012 A-Sun Championship by 23 points and the 2013 meet by an impressive 52 points; tied for the largest margin of victory in conference history.

Lipscomb’s 2014 edition has reached new levels with the Lady Bisons earning a third-place ranking in the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Association (USTFCCA) Division I South Region poll on Oct. 6th and nearly cracking the top-25 national poll.

“We want to be that top team in the region. That is the next goal for this program,” mentioned Taylor. “We are so close and that goal is in sight for this women’s team.”

At this year’s A-Sun Cross Country Championship, Lipscomb became the third program in A-Sun history to win four-straight conference titles. The Lady Bisons dominance at the conference and regional level could continue for quite some time as Lipscomb’s roster features several talented juniors and underclassmen.

“Right now, when we’re all out there, it does not matter who is an upperclassman or underclassman,” said Walker. “The team is so close and that is what helps us compete with these teams.”

Lipscomb and Walker head to the South Regionals in Tallahassee, Fla. In the latest Regional Poll, the Lady Bisons ranked No. 4.

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