WKU heading to different, yet competitive meets

Mercedes Trent

The WKU men’s cross country team is fighting for its recognition as it goes into the pre-nationals meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday.

“This team is very similar to a younger brother in a large family,” Head Coach emeritus Curtiss Long said. “We’re just trying to establish a niche. We’ll see how well we do this weekend.”

A strong performance at pre-nationals could catapult WKU’s men’s team into the attention of the committee that evaluates the pool of potential NCAA Championship teams and establish credibility for the team, Long said. 

The Toppers have not entered the NCAA Championship as a team since 1980. 

Pre-nationals will give the Toppers a chance to preview not only the course for the championship, but the competition as well.

“There will be a lot of high-caliber teams there and I’d like to see how well we stack up,” freshman Sean Hurd said. “I feel like we’re ready for (pre-nationals) and ready to show everybody else how good we are.”

Hurd said the meet would be a “big confidence boost” for the team and give the team a reading on its potential.

Long looks for the meet to reveal the development of the runners and their ability to control their setting.

“The dynamics of a big meet are different than that of a small meet,” Long said. “A large meet forces the runner to change the pace in the early stages.”

The challenges of larger meets are still new to competitors such as the three freshmen — Sean Hurd, David Mokone and Peter Okwera — that make up part of the team’s top five. 

“Every opportunity we can get to teach them to conserve energy and maintain position is important,” Long said. 

While a positive performance at this weekend’s meet could introduce the Toppers to the NCAA rankings, Long wants the team to focus only on the development of the team.

“We just need to run well this weekend and the ranking will take care of itself,” Long said.

The Lady Toppers are heading to the Crimson Classic in Tuscaloosa, Ala., this weekend, which women’s distance coach Michelle Scott said will put up “good competition,” such as Alabama and Arkansas State who have both beaten WKU in previous meets this season. 

“The key is to get the number four, number five, number six and number seven girls running closer to the top three,” Scott said. “(This weekend’s meet) will be more competitive back in the pack for them and they will maybe have a better race and maybe some breakthrough and we can make some progress. Every week we’re trying to close that gap.”

Scott said the meet will be lower-caliber than pre-nationals but said the Crimson Classic is better for the team. She counts on the meet to give the Lady Toppers confidence as they go into the Sun Belt Conference Championships on Oct. 29.

“I don’t think we would make as much progress there as we would in this meet,” Scott said. “When you take them to a big race, you risk them having a bad race and a lot of that is mental. 

“I want them to have a good race and go into conference on a high note.”