Bonds Poised For Special Senior Campaign
Sept. 22, 2009
This story is part of a series of student-athlete features throughout the year. All stories can be found at Big12Sports.com/InFocus.
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Shattering a personal record and finishing in the top five is usually enough to justify chalking up a performance as a success. But it’s clear Lauren Bonds, a senior on the women’s cross country team, doesn’t feel that way.
Perched around a high-top table in Kansas’ unfinished cross-country lounge, the Jayhawks undisputed top runner is discussing race and training strategy with assistant coach Michael Whittlesey and junior Amanda Miller. Only a few days after beginning her senior season by surpassing her career-best 5K time by more than 40 seconds at the Missouri Cross Country Challenge, Bonds is still thinking about lost opportunities and what could have been.
“It was my rust buster,” Bond said. “I kind of just went out there, didn’t know what to expect and tried something different. My competitive instinct wasn’t real sharp yet.”
Making her fourth-place finish even more disappointing was the fact that the top-three runners all hailed from a conference opponent and Kansas’ biggest rival: Missouri. Bonds said she didn’t prepare for the meet the way she will for the make-or-break events later in the season, but she still can’t shake the feeling that she should have broken up the Tiger triumvirate at the front of the pack.
“Running a fast time is great, but in cross country it’s really about who you can beat,” Bonds said. “Going out there and getting beat by three girls who are in my conference and I have to race later in the season, that’s never a good feeling.”
Despite not living up to her own lofty expectations, Bonds said she took some valuable lessons from the course Kansas will return to for the Big 12 Championships on October 31. She will need to put them all to good use if she hopes to better the 12th place finish from last year that netted her All-Big 12 honors. It won’t be an easy task. The conference is stronger, and two of the three Missouri runners who finished ahead of her were freshman new to the college circuit.
But this is also a much-improved Kansas squad, and Bonds has been happy so far with her times in workouts. She wants to finish in the top eight this time around, a logical jump for a runner who has steadily improved from year to year. One thing is certain, Bonds won’t shirk from the work required to accomplish her goals.
“I think all the girls on the team look up to her,” Miller said. “You know, ‘Bonds, she is so good. I want to be just like her.’ They try to match her work ethic, and it makes everyone work harder.”
With the mantle of top runner squarely on her shoulders and facing the urgency that comes with being a senior, Bonds knows it’s also her responsibility to keep the rest of the team ready to work hard and focused on the day’s workout, even if she isn’t in the mood to play the dual role of motivator and leader.
“If I am kind of having a bad week and I think, ‘I don’t want to do this run. It’s really hilly. It’s really hot. I don’t want to do it,’ I can’t complain,” she said. “You really have to be as positive as you can for your teammates.”
Her consistency, the development of the underclassmen and a strong recruiting class have helped give Kansas its deepest squad since Bonds arrived on campus a little more than three years ago. Sophomores Rebeka Stowe and Kara Windisch are expected to fill the third and fourth spots in the Jayhawks hierarchy while Miller is the unquestioned number two.
Bonds knows Kansas will only go as far as the four of them take it since team scores are based on how quickly a team’s top-four runners cross the finish line. But despite the pressure that comes with leading the team, Miller said Bonds manages to combine the right amount of goofiness without sacrificing intensity when the time calls for it.
“Sometimes there are those people who are so focused and kind of weird,” Miller said. “We goof around, but at the same time we will be serious. She knows when the right time for both is.”
Part of Bonds’ maturity, she will graduate with three degrees in May and is applying to law school, comes from having a role model of her own. Her sister, Morgan, was a cross country and middle distance standout at Kansas State. Bonds said one particular moment after a disappointing meet at Stanford during her sophomore year and her sister’s senior season helped give her perspective on her own career.
“She had a really good race, and I had a really bad race,” Bonds said. “She was just jogging and cooling down with me and gave me some really good advice. She said ‘Just stick with it. I had these really rough patches and you just have to push through.’ I saw how when things were going bad, she just put her head down and kept working and how she came out of it.”
Maybe it’s fitting then that Bonds spent the summer before her senior season with her sister in Baltimore – Morgan in medical school and Lauren working in Washington D.C. for a lobbying group that champions emigrant refugee rights. Before she took the train to work everyday, Bonds rose at 4:30 a.m. for 70 solitary minutes of running in the dark, laying the foundation for her senior season.
Those 70 minutes were the first steps towards making her senior year the proper culmination to a superlative-laden career in crimson and blue. The final steps are yet to come as her performance in Missouri indicates, but Bonds said she will be prepared when her teammates need her most.
“I’m ready to go back there for the Big 12 meet,” Bonds said. “We just have to put some more work in first.”