Young runners propelling WKU cross country

Mercedes Trent

Great teams have had success thanks to young talent. The WKU men’s cross-country team is hoping for the same good fortune.

Sean Hurd, David Mokone and Peter Okwera — all freshmen — are three of the Toppers’ top five runners. With the team aiming to compete in the NCAA National Championships this year, the freshman competitors are fully focused on bringing that dream to the team.

“I want us to make nationals as a team,” Mokone said. “Nationals is the ultimate goal. Our team just needs to work together. I want our team to succeed at every meet.”

Okwera believes the team is on track to achieving that goal.

“We’re heading toward great success,” Okwera said. “I know we have a good team, and this is the year. This is the year we can probably make it to nationals. Like they say, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going.’”

The freshman trio is used to making some tough adjustments. 

Okwera and Mokone, both African natives, are competing thousands of miles from home in a new country.  They dreamed of studying in the U.S. and recognized running as a way to make a better life and “do something good” for their home countries, according to Okwera. 

“I am the change my family would wish to see,” he said.

Hurd had to make the tough adjustment from baseball to cross country during his freshman year at Christian County High School.

The high school track coach spotted Hurd and asked him to join the cross-country team after watching him condition for baseball and noticing his speed.

Years later, Hurd’s performance has caught the eye of his teammates this season.

“Sean Hurd — he’s really impressed me so far,” junior Kyle Chettleburgh said. “He’s a talent to watch in the future.”

Hurd faces significant pressure in cross-country, as he’s the team’s fifth runner. As the fifth runner, his score rounds out the top five and he is responsible for keeping it close with other top four competitors. 

“It’s a big responsibility, but I want to have that responsibility, and help us do well in meets,” Hurd said. “I’m happy I can contribute in the top five.”

Okwera and Mokone are instrumental in Hurd’s role as well. As fellow top five runners, they set the pace for the rest of the team, and their consistently high finishes contribute to high team scores.

“We all have the same goals,” Hurd said. “It’s pretty cool to have the same goals and work together as a team.”

However, they still have a lot to learn as they adjust to the new level of competition. 

“I’m still learning techniques and all,” Mokone said. “You can be behind the whole race and still win. Maybe when I’m a sophomore or junior I’ll be more mature when I race and know more of what to expect.”

Okwera said he believes the key to development is learning from the team’s seniors.

“We have to respect the seniors,” Okwera said. “They have more ideas about running and the team at WKU. I just need to put my legs on the footsteps of Deus (Rwaheru). These seniors have the interest and motivate themselves.”

As they race closer to the upperclassmen, the freshmen continue to develop their own motivation and sense of accomplishment.

“I’m happy with what we’ve done so far,” Mokone said. “Every day at training I see progress, and that’s what keeps me going.”