Friday, April 19

Taylor crosses the country to lead UCLA

Transfer emerges as star after leading Arkansas for two years

By Mark Singerton

Shelley Taylor came back to Los Angeles because she loves to run.

Originally, the two-time All-American junior from Huntington Beach left California to pursue her cross country career at a top-flight collegiate program. The University of Arkansas ranked in the top five in the sport, and she had grand ideas of attending.

Taylor wanted to win, and winning came easy for her. She was a high school phenomenon, winning the CIF State championships in both cross country and track in the 1991-1992 season, and garnered the Orange Country Register’s Athlete of the Year award. She needed a new challenge and heard about the Arkansas program.

“I went to Arkansas pretty much because I knew the team was so good,” Taylor said.

Not to be outdone, the coaching staff at Arkansas had done their research on Taylor, and actively recruited her as a senior.

“We knew how good she was for some time,” Arkansas cross country coach Lance Harter said. “We followed her since she was a freshman.”

What followed for Taylor were two All-American seasons at Arkansas with ninth and 13th-place finishes at the NCAA championships. The performances capped two outstanding seasons for the Razorbacks, but not for Taylor.

“I wanted to be with my family, and I wanted a better education,” Taylor said. “I thought I could get both at UCLA.”

Taylor maintains that she was glad she had the opportunity to go out-of-state, but in the end she couldn’t resist the temptations of home.

“(My parents) saw that I wasn’t a hundred percent happy over there and would have liked to see me come home, but they never said anything.” Taylor said. “But I knew I had to come back.”

Harter was stunned by her decision to leave.

“Shocked would have been an understatement,” Harter said.

The coaching staff never knew of Taylor’s frustrations at Arkansas, and did not find out until it was too late. Taylor left, but the staff supported her in her decision, and sees good things ahead for their former star.

“I’m sure she’ll do very well at UCLA,” Harter said. “She’s very gifted, and she has a unique ability to focus.”

Focus will be important for Taylor, with the added pressure of being back home. But her primary goals are not accolades.

“Rankings aren’t what keep me going,” Taylor said. “I have to be able to enjoy what I do, and I found that I could enjoy the sport as much or even more so out in Los Angeles.”

Now that she is in Westwood, Taylor will be at the top once again – this time leading the way with All-American Karen Hecox.

If there is going to be a rivalry between the two this season, it shouldn’t last long. Taylor and Hecox are roommates and get along quite well.

“We don’t have any problems,” Hecox said. “I respect her abilities and she respects mine. There’s no rivalry here.”

Taylor began the season with two victories at the Tennessee and Aztec Invitationals, both without Hecox. Hecox returned the favor the following two meets with wins in the Riverside and Stanford Invitationals, the former without Taylor.

Yet Taylor downplays individual statistics.

“We both run for the team and because we enjoy the sport, and that’s all,” Taylor said.

Taylor says the most important thing right now is that she’s back home among family and friends.

“It’s kind of ironic that I ended up back in L.A.,” Taylor said. “But I love this team. I know so many people from my high school days. It’s going to be a great season.”

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