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Looking to break out: Northwest junior sets sights on state bid

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RUNNING TO THE FRONT - Northwest junior Troy Taylor started the year Saturday at the Greenhill/Luke's Locker 6-mile relay in Dallas. The Rhome resident has put in a long summer of training in an effort to nail down his first trip to state. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Taking the course last fall at Mae Simmons Park in Lubbock, Troy Taylor felt he stood just minutes from earning a trip to the state meet at Round Rock.

Running against some of the nation’s best in the Class 5A Region I race, the Northwest sophomore saw those hopes dashed as he crossed the line in 16:12 for a 19th-place finish – nine spots out of advancing.

“I felt disappointed,” admits Taylor, who lives in Rhome. “I was 100 percent sure that I’d make it. But afterward I just started looking forward to the next year.”

INTO THE CLEAR - After two years of competing with the state's best runners, Troy Taylor hopes to find his way to state as a junior. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

That next year for the now-junior and his Northwest teammates began Saturday at the Greenhill/Luke’s Locker 6-mile relay at Norbuck Park near White Rock Lake in Dallas.

After a long summer of training, Taylor is looking forward to racing.

“I’m real excited,” he said. “I know I’m one of the top older runners now, and I’m ready to compete.”

Competition comes naturally to Taylor, who grew up in a family of runners. His father competed at the collegiate level at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“My dad always talked about running, and I grew up watching my big brother compete,” he said.

While Taylor enjoys pounding the pavement, he longs for competition and a chance to win.

“I just like to race,” he said. “If you win, you know you’re faster than someone else. I like challenging people and winning.”

Since his freshman year, Taylor has been a mainstay on the Texans’ varsity. As a freshman he ran a 16:49, advancing to regionals with his team. On the tough regional course, he ran a 16:56.

His sophomore year, Taylor splashed through the mud at district to take second place before turning in his 16:12 at regionals.

“As a coach, he’s what you like to see with how he’s progressed from year to year,” said Northwest cross country coach George Lutkenhaus. “As good as he can be this year, he should be even better as a senior.”

Lutkenhaus, who ran at the University of North Texas, is expecting Taylor to have a break-through season.

“He’s still growing and has another year of mileage under him,” Lutkenhaus said. “We saw his mile time drop from 4:39 to 4:23. This year, we’ll be looking to go in the 4:10s.

“In cross country, he’s got a good chance at state of finishing in the top 20, if we keep him healthy and improving.”

Throughout the offseason, Taylor has put in heavy mileage to prepare for the year, running an average of 55 to 60 miles per week. Many of his long runs of nearly nine miles were run at a blazing pace of 6:30.

“I just try to do what coach says and keep packing on more mileage each year,” Taylor said.

He’s also become tougher mentally, which he says is a big part of running.

“Half of it is mental,” Taylor said. “First learning to overcome the pain and then making yourself wake up every day to train.”

The level of competition that Taylor will face provides an extra incentive for him. For the past two years at regionals, he’s run against Flower Mound Marcus’ Craig Lutz, who won the state title last fall. He also has seen many of those same top runners at meets around the Metroplex.

“They make me want to run faster,” Taylor said. “But I don’t look at them as a threat. I just race.”

Lutkenhaus said that high level of competition is a benefit to Taylor.

“Week in and week out no matter the meet we go to, he’s running against the best in the state,” the Northwest coach said. “He knows who he has to run against and beat. Because he’s been running against them since he was a freshman, he knows he can do it.

“I really think he can run with anybody.”

As he enters his third varsity season, Taylor believes the same and is setting his mind on being at Round Rock in November.

“I just want to make it to state.”

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