North Texas Daily

Senior runner Troy Taylor leading men’s cross country team toward national stage

Senior runner Troy Taylor leading men’s cross country team toward national stage

Senior runner Troy Taylor leading men’s cross country team toward national stage
October 01
12:30 2015

Jesse Brackeen | Staff Writer

@hail_bracking

Kinesiology senior Troy Taylor sits on a bench outside the Business Leadership Building as hundreds of students walk by. Shrouded in obscurity on a campus where names such as Carlos Harris, Carnae Dillard and Jackie Kerestine are mainstays, one of the most decorated athletes at UNT goes unrecognized.

Taylor is the most dominant member of what has become one of the most successful programs at North Texas. He has been named the Conference USA male athlete of the week twice this season, having only competed in three races.

Addtionally, the men’s cross country team has become a diamond in the rough these first few weeks, finishing 1st in its first two races and 2nd in its most recent race at the Texas A&M Invitational.

“On paper we are beating big name schools and competing at high levels,” Taylor said. “We are one of the top schools in the region, and I think if you went here it would be cool to know that we have a kick-ass cross country team.”

Taylor started running in 6th grade after drawing inspiration from his father, who ran for the University of Texas at Arlington.

“He told me stories of him running. That sort of inspired me,” Taylor said. “I wanted to run. I wanted to play all the sports in middle school, but I definitely excelled most in running. I knew I could go somewhere with this. If I keep up with this I could run in college, maybe get a scholarship and help my parents out.”

Approaching graduation from Northwest High School in Justin, Texas, Taylor said colleges across the nation approached him. One of those was North Texas, though he admits the Mean Green was not his top choice.

“I started taking visits, UNT called and offered me a scholarship, and I really didn’t want to come here at all actually,” Taylor said “I had a terrible mindset. I was looking at bigger named schools, like top schools in the nation, and they were contacting me.”

On his visit, Mean Green track & field head coach Carl Sheffield walked Troy around the facilities and made him aware of his intentions to coach a high caliber team that the university was lacking at the time. Taylor said the visit completely changed his perspective.

“We walked out to the track, and he was showing me the stadium. And he said that we can do great things here, and ‘I want you to help us to change the track and cross country program,’” Taylor said. “And that changed my mind. I thought, ‘You know, they may not be the best program at the moment, but I want to go there and help them become something.’”

Current head coach Stefanie Slekis was hired during Taylor’s sophomore year in 2013, North Texas’ first year in Conference USA, and the team has since found success. The Mean Green is ranked No. 3 in the South Central region behind the University of Arkansas, who is ranked No. 15 nationally, and the University of Texas at Austin.

A head coaching change can be arduous to some athletes, but Taylor embraced the change and immediately contacted his new coach.

“The week it was announced, Troy was one of the first to reach out to me,” Slekis said. “He actually picked me up in his car and showed me where the team trained. Our relationship started on a great note. We are both competitors, and we see eye to eye on his goals as well as those of the team.”

Troy Taylor-2.jpg1

Cross Country senior Troy Taylor poses for a portrait in the UNT Athletic Facility on September 28th. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

When asked about those goals, Taylor did not mince words.

“Nationals,” Taylor said. “As a team.”

Running is typically seen as an individual sport, but at the end of the season, an individual can only go as far as the team takes them. Taylor said he and his teammates will do anything do accomplish their goals.

“We like to think of it as we are going to war. We are going out there toeing the line together,” Taylor said. “A lot of people think that you are going out there by yourself, but it’s a team sport because you are scoring together. If I am busting my ass running to exhaustion, you are going to be running to exhaustion.”

One of his teammates who can help attain that goal is senior Bryce McAndrew, who has been running with Taylor since they were freshmen.

“When I was younger, Troy would beat me by quite a bit,” McAndrew said. “Now it’s closer because he gives us a lot of confidence racing with him. He always races well and that motivates us as a whole. When we run as a group. We wait for Troy to make his move. And we are going to do everything we can to keep up when he does.”

The Mean Green has two more competitions before the C-USA championships, then conclude the season with the NCAA South Central Regionals on Nov. 13.

But as Taylor looked around campus at his classmates passing by, completely unaware of who he is, he looked straight forward and wondered why his team isn’t in the conversation to take its game to the next level.

“Why not nationals?” Taylor asked. “It’s not going to be easy but we all believe we can get there. If you are looking at rankings, it’s possible. Anything is possible. It’s cheesy sure, but whatever. Anything is possible.”

Featured Image: Troy Taylor hopes to lead UNT to nationals this year. Courtesy | Mean Green Sports

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