Cross country squads start season at Belmont

Andrew Weigel

The football team wasn’t the only WKU action in Nashville this weekend — the men’s and women’s cross country teams kicked off their 2013 season Friday evening at the Belmont Opener at Percy Warner Park in Nashville.

Junior David Mokone and sophomore Louise Hill-Stirling were WKU’s top finishers.

Mokone, a first-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection a year ago, finished No. 5 in the 5,000-meter race, coming in with a time of 15:57.02.

This marks his seventh career top-10 cross country finish. Mokone improved on his finish at the Belmont Opener last year, when he came in seventh-place.

Hill-Stirling recorded a time of 18:59.19 to capture No. 24 in the women’s 5,000-meter race. She competed in four races as a freshman, and Friday was her first career race at the Belmont Opener.

Coach Erik Jenkins praised Mokone and Hill-Stirling for competing at a high level against solid competition.

“They both went out and handled it well,” said Jenkins, “The heat was a big factor as well as the tall grass, but they handled the course very well and I’m pleased with their finishes.”

Hill-Stirling’s No. 24 place finish was closely followed by sophomore teammates Lindsey Hinken (19:15.82) and Katie Lever (19:20.61) who finished No. 31 and 33, respectively. Sophomores Baylee Shofner (19:56.10) and Taylor Carlin (20:01.58) rounded out the Lady Toppers’ top five runners, coming in at No. 47 and No. 50.

Friday marked the first time the Lady Toppers’ top five runners all finished in the top-50 since 2011.

Jenkins said he was pleased with the performance of the women’s team in Nashville.

“They went out and competed,” said Jenkins, “This was a great learning experience for them.”

The Toppers received a large contribution from sophomore Aaron Stevens.

Stevens finished in No. 35, a career best. Stevens competed in four races as a true freshman and previously held a career-best finish of No. 56 before Friday.

Jenkins said he expected Stevens to have a big day at Percy Warner Park.

“I was not surprised by Aaron’s finish at all,” said Jenkins, “If he keeps working, I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people in the next three years.”

Rounding out the Toppers’ top five runners were junior Kamohelo Mangojeane  (18:26.42, No. 94) and sophomore Lucas Atherton (19:03.76, No. 100). Both runners were competing in their first race for WKU.

Coach Jenkins said he hopes to build on Friday’s meet and continue to improve leading up to the conference championship at the end of the season.

“I was pleased with our competitiveness, and we’re going to learn from our mistakes and keep improving,” Jenkins said.

The teams will be back in action Sep. 14 in Nashville for the Commodore Classic.