When he came to Lenoir-Rhyne University, Kevin Baxter had been a successful outdoor track sprinter but had no experience running indoors.
He also had no experience running the 60-meter hurdles, as he was a state champion in high school at Irmo in Columbia, S.C., running the 110-meter hurdles.
So with that little amount of experience, all Baxter did in his first season with the Bears was earn All-American status in the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships.
At the championships March 8-9 in Birmingham, Ala., Baxter ran a school-record and personal-best time of 7.97 seconds in the semifinals, where he was seeded 11th. His time put him in the finals, where he ran an 8.01, finishing sixth and becoming the school’s first All-American in men’s indoor track and field.
“He’s been working really hard,” head coach Jason Stewart said. “We thought he had the ability to do this, and he came up big when he needed it most.”
Baxter started the season by running a school-record 8.2 at the Hilton Garden Invitational in Winston-Salem and was told by Stewart and his staff that becoming an All-American was a possibility. A couple weeks later, at the JDL Fast Track Championship, also in Winston-Salem, Baxter’s time improved to 8.15, qualifying him for the NCAA meet in Birmingham.
Many athletes, especially a freshman, might wilt under the pressure of competing at a national championship for the first time, but not Baxter.
If he had finished at his seeded position (11th), Baxter would not have qualified for the finals nor become an All-American; but his time in the semifinals placed him fifth overall, virtually clinching All-American status. In the final, he ran his second-fastest time and was less than one-tenth of a second from third place.
“It was definitely motivating, being able to run against the fastest in the nation,” Baxter said. “The biggest thing for me was treating it like another race, but I knew this was my chance to make my name.”
Baxter says he thinks he can lower his time in the next year, possibly to 7.7 seconds, which would beat the national champions’ time from Birmingham, a 7.84.
Now comes the outdoor season, and Baxter is looking forward to running his strongest event, the 110-meter hurdles, and possibly some relays.
“I do feel more confident there and have more experience in the 110, but I hope to compete in some relays so I can help the team,” said Stewart, who is majoring in sports management. “The indoor season has done a lot for my confidence, and I’m looking forward to the outdoor season.”