Jenkins confident with group moving closer to post season

Senior Taylor Carlin from Alberta, Canada, front, runs in the Forrest Park Cross Country Festival at Forrest Park in St. Louis on Sept. 11. Ashley Cooper/HERALD

Jonah Phillips

After competing in the Greater Louisville Classic last weekend, the Hilltopper cross-country program will remain in Kentucky for the remainder of October as it prepares for postseason competition.

After a trip to St. Louis in September that saw the Lady Toppers place second in the Forest Park Cross Country Festival, Head Coach Erik Jenkins is looking forward to the opportunity to hone his student-athletes’ skills closer to home.

“The next month for us is going to be all Kentucky meets, so that’s exciting for the local folks to get a chance to see our kids compete,” Jenkins said. “I think it is a good thing for our kids to be able to compete close to home and not have to travel quite so far.”

Last Saturday’s contest in Louisville was the first opportunity of the season for the men’s team and the women’s team to compete in the same meet.

While the men’s squad now has three meets under its belt, the Lady Toppers have just two, but Jenkins is confident in what he has seen so far this season.

“We have a good nucleus of young ladies,” Jenkins said. “We need our young people to come in and still make some strides if we want a chance to be successful, but I like the direction we are going.”

Jenkins partially attributes the women’s success to first-year assistant coach Will Palmer, who came in as a coach specializing in distance running.

“Coach Palmer is doing a good job with them, and our ladies are training hard,” Jenkins said. “Our strength and conditioning coach is doing a good job of developing them in the core, so I’m excited about it.”

Referring to the men’s squad, which has traveled to Nashville twice and went to Louisville last weekend, Jenkins expressed similar confidence in two specific runners: junior Endalow Takele and senior Aaron Stevens.

“Those two guys, I think, are what you want to have moving forward, especially getting into this part of the season,” Jenkins said.

Stevens led the Hilltoppers in Vanderbilt’s Commodore Classic with a 56th place showing on Sept. 19, and Takele started his season off at the Belmont Opener with a first-place finish.

“Aaron is training very well,” Jenkins said. “Endalow continues to train. He had a long season over the summer, but he is finally getting back into the cross. The other guys behind them have to continue to make improvements.”

With just one more meet before the Conference USA Championships, which will be held in Bowling Green this year, Jenkins knows it is crunch time to get his runners in peak physical condition.

Also increasing pressure on the athletes is their last meet before conference championships; it’s a NCAA Division I pre-national competition.

For Jenkins, the goal of the program is relatively simple.

“We want to be competitive,” Jenkins said. “When you get into a meet, you want to be competitive. As they say, ‘Beat some of the ones you are supposed to beat, and then beat some ones that you’re not.’ We want to be competitive every time we step out, and the more competitive we can be now will pay dividends in the championship season.”