WKU preparing for more competitive meet

Mercedes Trent

The results will tell all when the WKU cross country teams finish their run on Saturday.

A larger meet showcasing anywhere from 40 to 50 teams, the Greater Louisville Classic, will give the Toppers their first chance to measure themselves against the competition.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to test ourselves in a NCAA district-level competition,” Head Coach Emeritus Curtiss Long said. “It’s a fast course. It’ll be very well officiated and there are outstanding people in the race. You get a chance to measure each position on your team.”

The meet will feature local teams Louisville — the meet’s host — and Eastern Kentucky University, both of which are nationally ranked.

“This is our preview meet so we anticipate there’ll be some outstanding teams there,” Long said.

Last year the Toppers came in behind 30 other teams, despite having one runner claim second place individually. 

This year WKU has higher hopes as a team.

“I know going into this meet that we could be possibly a top contender — in the top three,” junior Landon Taylor said. 

Gauging the men and women’s team performance this weekend is Long’s primary concern.

“I want to see how well our top three guys do,” Long said. “And then obviously I want to see how close our team finishes. If we could finish within a minute of each other from one to five, we’ll have had an outstanding meet.”

The women’s team, which claimed fifth last year, looks for similar development.

“This meet is getting more and more competitive every year,” women’s distance coach Michelle Scott said. “So really I’m just going to say, ‘Try for top ten’ and we’ll try our best and just keep moving forward from there.”

Discovering how to move through the traffic that develops in bigger meets will be a key factor in the meet, Long said.

“I think the big challenge…is that we need to be able to learn how to position ourselves in a big meet so that we’re in position to have a chance to succeed in the late stages of the race,” Long said. “You can get yourself behind people that aren’t as good as you are and then you got to fight your way up through.

“We’re looking at this as the first experience of getting out fast, getting under control, and positioning ourselves well so that we’re successful throughout the race.”

In anticipation of the faster course the Toppers will tackle this weekend, the team has done a little more speed work and focused on strong, quick finishes in practice.

“We’re trying to get ourselves acclimated to that faster, early pace you see at the national-level meet,” Long said.

As with the last meet, held at Kereiakes Park, the freshmen, who are unaccustomed to running in such large meets, will be “one of the intriguing factors of the weekend,” Long said.

Taylor said it will “open their eyes up a little bit.” 

“But I know they’ll compete well,” Taylor said. “I have faith in them. They know how to run.”

Sean Hurd is one such freshman but feels he is “where (he) needs to be” for Saturday’s meet.

“I’ll have to go out with the front pack,” Hurd said. “I’ll have to stay with them because the first mile of the race is going to be pretty fast. So I have to go out with them and just try to hold on and run my own pace.”

While the women’s team is not primarily concerned with freshmen runners, Scott believes the second-tier runners will seal the meet for the Lady Toppers.

Scott expects senior Marion Kandie — the Lady Topper’s leading competitor — to be “somewhere near the front,” finishing close to the top five place she took last year. 

Seniors Michelle Finn and Vasity Chemweno are expected to follow close behind Kandie, but Scott said the four, five, six, and seven runners are “the key” for the team.

The chance to race in a more competitive meet will help set the pace for the rest of the training season, according to Long.

“You’ve got a chance in a big meet to perform,” Long said. “Whether you perform to expectation or hope or potential, we’ll find out. But any way that we race I want them to give this a full shot and then we’ll learn something from it. 

“We’ll move on to the next meet stronger.”