As Razorback women’s coach Lance Harter talked about his team during his first press conference of the 2017 track season, there was only one runner he deemed as his “new freshman superstar.”
Taylor Werner, a standout at Ste. Genevieve High School, was a four-time Class 3A state champ in cross country and, also, was a four-time All-American in the sport. In track, she was a four-time state champion in the mile and a three-time state champion in the 3,200-meter run.
All of that success led her to be named Missouri Gatorade Runner of the Year four times, three as a cross-country runner and once in track.
She chose the Hogs over the likes of Stanford, Florida State and Missouri because of the trust she had in the coaching staff and the team atmosphere that the Razorbacks attempt to foster, she said.
“When I visited here I just had a really good feeling here,” Werner said.
Another reason she chose Arkansas was the experience the coaches brought to the concept of running and how to maximize each runner’s potential.
“The coaches are really knowledgeable about running,” Werner said. “My coaches in high school were too but not at this level. It’s really nice knowing I can have a lot of confidence in my coach.”
Werner has already made her presence felt for the Hogs.
During her first track meet of the season, Werner was part of the 4,000-meter distance medley relay team that took first place with a time of 11:33.43. Individually, she took third in the 3,000-meter run.
Going forward, Harter said he planned on putting Werner in a couple of different events to see which best suits her, like the mile and 5K.
“We’ve been blessed to have a lot of great distance runners and Taylor has a lot of similar characteristics of those runners,” Harter said. “I think there’s nothing physically that can stop her.”
Werner burst on the scene for the Razorbacks during the cross country season. She finished first in the UC Riverside Invitational on Sept. 17 and continued her strong showing with a top-15 finish in the Southeastern Conference Championship on Oct. 28.
Those strong finishes have helped her assert herself as one of top distance runners for the Hogs that Harter is excited about going into the track season, he said.
“It gives me a lot of confidence in knowing what I’m able to do,” Werner said. “I didn’t really think what I did was that awesome here, but it just gives me a lot of confidence, going into the season, knowing what I’m capable of doing.”
While Werner has the physical gifts to go down as one of the top runners in Razorback track history, she struggled at first with the transition to college.
Werner was injured during her senior track season and when she got to the university, she wasn’t prepared for the strenuous workouts and level of competition of collegiate running, she said.
“At first it was a little rough; I had trouble adapting,” Werner said. “I just wasn’t really ready to perform at the level I knew I was capable of, so when I first came in it was a little rough.”
That’s when Harter stepped in.
He helped Werner come back fully from her injury and helped her to take the rehabilitation process slow.
“She was really impatient,” Harter said.
Once she was ready to practice at her full ability, her outlook toward the practices and meets changed, she said.
She said she took the pressure off herself to be the top dog like she was in high school and was able to focus on just trying “to keep up with the other girls.”
“It went from being frustrating to I was looking forward to the workouts,” Werner said. “So it took awhile but I really like not being a senior right now because it’s very different in the collegiate world.”
The girls on the team also helped her push through her early issues.
“They’re like my older sisters; we’re just a big family,” Werner said. “That’s kind of why I chose to go here. They’re all super fun and everyone’s unique. They’re all team-oriented.”
Harter had his eyes on Werner ever since she was a sophomore in high school and continued to watch her grow into the runner she is today. He said he noticed “flashes of brilliance” in her that he wants to make consistent.
One thing Werner already has on girls her age is her poise, Harter said.
“She fears no one, but respects everyone,” Harter said.