The WKU cross country team heads to Louisville this weekend to compete in the NCAA Southeast Regional with hopes of qualifying for nationals.
Even with the added pressure, the team’s approach has stayed the same in practice.
“We’ve just been doing the normal routine,” sophomore Shadrack Kipchirchir said. “We haven’t done anything special at all.”
In fact, Head Coach Erik Jenkins said he has lowered the intensity level in practice since the Sun Belt Conference Championships Oct. 30.
“We backed down on intensity in practice to allow them to recover and take care of their bodies as best as possible,” Jenkins said.
The Toppers will be familiar with the course they run on Saturday, as it’s the same one they ran on at the Greater Louisville Classic earlier this season.
Junior Michelle Finn said the familiarity with E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park will help but won’t necessarily be a clear-cut advantage.
“It definitely helps to know the course,” Finn said. “But there are lots of other runners who have the same familiarity with the course.”
The course Saturday will be nearly 2 kilometers longer than what the Toppers are used to running at their home Kereiakes Park, where the WKU women won the Sun Belt title and men finished fourth at the conference championships.
“The longer course poses a bigger challenge,” Jenkins said. “But we’ve ran the course before, and we have been preparing for this opportunity the entire season and even over the summer.”
Kipchirchir said he knows the longer course presents more difficulty, but he said he is eager for the challenge.
“The 6k is a big challenge,” Kipchirchir said. “I’m hoping to qualify for nationals, but it’s really competitive. I’m just going to go out and do my best.”
Jenkins said he isn’t looking for a special performance from any one individual Saturday. Instead, he said he wants to see a good collective effort from the team.
“I’m looking for everyone to step up Saturday,” Jenkins said. “I expect everyone to run well. I always expect our team to come out and compete.”
Nearly 70 squads and 500 runners will compete Saturday, with the men’s 6,000 meter starting at 10:00 a.m., and the women’s race following at 11:15 a.m.
Though Jenkins has no clear goal of qualifying for nationals, he said he wants WKU to perform at its best so it has that opportunity.
“We train for the opportunity to qualify at nationals,” Jenkins said. “We’ve been able to compete very well at the conference level, and we hope to see improvement at the regional level.”