Cross Country teams start title defense Friday

Jonah Phillips

WKU found plenty of cross country success in the 2011-2012 season.

The Lady Toppers won their sixth cross country conference championship in a row last season. It was WKU’s 18th straight women’s Sun Belt Conference championship across indoor and outdoor track and cross country.

The men’s team also swept its conference championships in 2011-2012.

“To be able to accomplish what the men accomplished was extremely difficult and an outstanding feat,” said Jenkins, 2011 Sun Belt Coach of the Year.

WKU will start its march back to a Sun Belt title on Friday, as it travels to Nashville for the Belmont Opener.

Jenkins said his team is “well prepared for” a meet in which opponents will include Kentucky, Tennessee and Sun Belt rival Middle Tennessee State.

“We are working hard, the kids are focused, the coaches are focused, and we are excited in both the student-athlete and the coaches perspective” Jenkins said. “They have got to all work together, that’s the bottom line.”

WKU goes into the meet and the season with high expectations, as both the men’s and women’s teams were picked on Wednesday to defend their Sun Belt titles.

The Toppers received 10 out of 12 first-place votes as they hope to win back-to-back conference title for the first time since 1997-1998.  

Meanwhile the Lady Toppers received six of 12 first-place votes as they work towards their seventh consecutive Sun Belt title.

The men’s team is returning three of its top five runners and adding senior Joseph Chebet, who has previously competed in other track disciplines at WKU.

Chebet broke the 3,000 meter Sun Belt record for track, won the 5,000 and 10,000 meter Sun Belt Championships, and placed 23rd at the NCAA Tournament in 5,000 meter event.  

This will be his first cross country season with the Toppers, as he was a midyear transfer in 2011-2012.

“(The men) had success the year before, but in order to sustain that success, or hopefully build off that success, we have to work hard,” Jenkins said, “We have to stay healthy. Anytime you compete in a sport health is a major issue.”

Jenkins said he’s also expecting great things from men’s sophomore David Mokone and women’s senior Vasity Chemweno, both of whom had big seasons last year.

Mokone recorded three Top 10 finishes last season out of the five meets he competed in, earning Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honors.

“David is an athlete that is very driven to compete on a national level,” Jenkins said.  

Meanwhile Chemweno posted three Top 10 finishes out of six meets and earned All-Sun Belt honors after posting a fourth place finish at the Sun Belt Cross Country Championship.

“Coming in as the cross country champions I believe we as a team have a lot to sacrifice in order to retain the title,” she said. “So my wish is for us to extend the win to this year for both men and women.”