Inexperienced cross country teams in “grind mode” to start season

Jonah Phillips

The WKU men’s and women’s cross-country teams are looking forward to the upcoming season after an offseason of hard work.

“We’re just in that grind mode right now, working to get stronger so we can run longer distances,” Erik Jenkins, coach of both the men’s and women’s teams, said.

The teams are exceptionally young on both sides – there are no seniors on the women’s squad, and several freshmen and sophomores are on both sides.

Youth is expected to play a big role in the development of the teams early in the year. Jenkins said he expects the teams to take their lumps early and improve throughout the season.

“We’re going to keep getting better and hopefully by the end of the semester we’ll be where we need to be leading up to the Sun Belt Championship in Alabama,” Jenkins said, emphasizing the youth on both squads. “Our priority is conference, regionals, and nationals, in that order.

If the young teams are going to reach Jenkins’ expectations, new runners are going to have to step up. Luckily, Jenkins has a couple of top returnees in junior David Mokone for the men and sophomore Lindsey Hinken for the women to count on while the newcomers improve.

Mokone, a native of Bultfontein, South Africa, boasted top 10 finishes twice last year and was WKU’s No. 2 finisher in all six meets. He posted a career-best 8,000-meter time of 24:37.55 at the Greater Louisville Classic, and received first-team All-Sunbelt honors for the second-straight year last season.

Mokone is expected to lead the team after the graduation of Joseph Chebet, who was an at large qualifier for the Cross Country Championships last year.

Hinken, an Erlanger native, emerged as the Lady Toppers’ top distance runner last year as a freshman. She finished first among Lady Toppers in three of six meets and second in the other three.

Hinken will be counted on to produce good finishes for WKU along with fellow sophomore Katie Lever.

The teams are heading to Nashville on Friday for the Belmont Opener at Percy Warner Park, and Jenkins said he’s looking for his runners to step up and show how much they’ve improved from the offseason workouts.

“I need five people who are willing to line up and go mano-a-mano and compete,” Jenkins said.

He said their inexperience might actually be his teams’ biggest strength.

“Our biggest strength is we’re so young that we don’t know any better,” Jenkins said, “We’re just going to go out there and compete.”