Lapel graduate Lucas Mendel and Pendleton Heights alum Sam Bayliss figured they were finally done running against each other in cross country and track after they committed to Anderson University.
Then came Monday’s Smith Hall Olympics, where both were entered into the 1,600 meters but were on opposing sides once again. [Photo: Then-Pendleton Heights runner Sam Bayliss, left, and then-Lapel runner Lucas Mendel, right, compete side-by-side during last year’s Arabian Roundup in Pendleton. The pair are now teammates at Anderson University.]
Mendel ran for the second-floor squad while Bayliss competed for the third-floor team.
For four years and nearly 50 races on opposing sides in high school, the two were fixtures at the top of the results whenever there was a meet involving Pendleton Heights and Lapel. Both achieved success in the prep ranks and were named The Herald Bulletin’s Runner of the Year in boys cross country. Bayliss earned the honor in 2011 while Mendel was the 2010 winner.
It was more than enough to put them on AU cross country coach Scott Wilson’s radar.
“It’s important to get the best local kids you can,” Wilson said. “They were my No. 1 priority.”
His sales pitch was made a little easier by the fact that both runners felt at home on campus.
“I was looking for a small, Christian school,” Mendel said. “(Anderson) felt like a good fit for me.”
“I came on a few visits, and I liked it,” Bayliss said.
Anderson ran its first race of the season Friday at the Indiana Intercollegiates Meet in Terre Haute.
In their debut in the orange-and-black, Mendel finished 36th in a time of 27:27, while Bayliss was 74th in 28:33. Both realized a major difference in the college competition as opposed to high school.
“The overall speed is much greater,” Bayliss said. “To me it was sort of a slow start, the people just started taking off.”
“I noticed it right from the start,” Mendel said of the pace of the race.
Wilson feels both have the tools to be successful at the collegiate level.
“I had a coach tell me that any overnight success takes about two or three years of hard work,” Wilson said. “I’m always saying ‘trust the process.’ Both like to train hard and have good energy. They’ll learn the pace and be in the hunt.”
Rivalries among individual athletes have been a selling point for sports marketers for years. Any rivlary between Bayliss and Mendel was based on friendly competition.
“I went to both of their (high school graduation) open houses, and both had pictures from the paper of them running together on their picture boards,” Wilson said. “Only difference was that one was winning and the other was behind him depending on which house you were at.”
“We’ve been talking about how different it is now that we’re on the same team,” Mendel said. “It’s more competitive, but it’s about supporting each other.”
“The running world isn’t that big,” Wilson said. “If you have a situation where two runners have success, you respect each other.”
Aside from camaraderie, both have been adjusting to college life and the AU schedule for classes and cross country meets.
“I have three classes on Monday, and they start at 10 a.m.,” Bayliss said. “The practices are tougher. In high school, we didn’t do two practices a day.”
“I think just the dorm life. I’m 10 minutes away, but it’s weird not to go home at the end of school,” Mendel said. “As for cross country, we’re used to having two or three meets a week (in high school). Now we have like six for the whole season.”
Both have bought into the Ravens’ team goal of keeping AU among the top three teams in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Individually, Bayliss uses cross country to help him get ready for track season in the spring. Mendel has his sights set on a more immediate goal.
“All my focus has been on track for so long,” Bayliss said. “When I’m running cross country, all my time is focused on getting better.”
“For myself, I put down as a goal that I want to win the Freshman of the Year in the conference,” Mendel said. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
“Real confidence comes from having success in the past. It helps their expectations,” Wilson said. “I think Sam will surprise himself before this season is over. I think Lucas is on pace to win that. They’re both good kids, and the sky is the limit.”
—Quintin Harlan is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story reposted with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.