Cross country season starts this weekend

Andrew Weigel

The WKU cross country teams will start their 2013 campaign this Friday in Nashville, Tenn., at the Belmont Opener in Percy Warner Park.

The men’s and women’s teams are hoping for a strong start in Nashville and are looking to improve on their No. 5 finishes at last year’s Belmont Opener.

The Toppers will vie for their second Sun Belt Conference title in three years with a balanced attack.

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Coach Erik Jenkins has some new faces to go along with top returnee, junior David Mokone. Mokone, a two-time All-Sun Belt Conference selection, will be asked to carry a large portion of the load this year after the departure of All-American runner Joseph Chebet, as well as senior Kyle Chettleburgh.

He will be joined by returning runners sophomore Aaron Stevens and junior Sean Hurd. Hurd, a native of Crofton who posted two top-30 finishes last year, recorded his best finish of the season at last year’s Belmont Opener while Stevens, a Sandy Hook sophomore, competed in four of six meets as a true freshman and posted his best finish at the Sun Belt Conference Cross Country Championships with a No. 56 finish.

Both will be called on by Jenkins to produce for the Toppers.

“They’re both young guys that will contribute,” Jenkins said.

The Lady Toppers will begin their campaign to reclaim the Sun Belt Conference Championship after breaking their streak of six straight conference titles by finishing No. 3 at last year’s meet.

Leading the way will be sophomore Lindsey Hinken, who had a breakout freshman season, finishing in the top-2 among Lady Topper runners in all six meets. Hinken was named All-Sun Belt Conference and looks to improve on that this season.

Katie Lever, a sophomore native of Elizabethtown, is also expected to be a top finisher for the Lady Toppers this season.

With Friday being the first meet of the season, Jenkins expects to learn a lot about what type of shape his team is in.

“Most of these runners haven’t raced since May,” said Jenkins. “We’re going to try to build on what we did during the summer and get back into racing mode.”

Jenkins said he wants to see how his team copes with being on an unfamiliar course. He said after running the whole offseason on the practice course, a new course could cause some problems.

Jenkins expects to learn a lot about the teams’ strengths and weaknesses across the board.

“I want to see what we do well and what we don’t do well so we can work on that,” he said.

When asked about what teams he is most worried about, Jenkins said he isn’t taking anyone lightly.

“Everyone we play has something going for them,” said Jenkins. “We won’t discount anyone, from here to the National Championship.”