Young Wildcats to lead Kansas State During 2003 Cross Country Season
This year's version of the Kansas State men's and women's cross country teams will look younger than teams in the past. With the departure of veteran runners from last year's squads, the Wildcats will compete with a number of young athletes throughout the year.
However, that does not mean the Wildcats will not improve on their finishes at the 2002 Big 12 Conference Championships, according to K-State head coach Randy Cole. In fact, Cole believes the Wildcats have a strong chance of improving on the men's 10th place finish and the women's seventh place finish at last year's conference meet.
In order to accomplish this goal, Cole believes the Wildcats will need to focus on continuous training, gaining experience and building up to a strong performance at the Big 12 Championships, NCAA Regionals and the NCAA Championships.
"In cross country, it comes down to who is the strongest after a long season, on the day of the championship race," Cole said. "That is what we are gearing towards, because we have a young bunch."
Cole also points out that a lot of the responsibility falls on the young athletes in preparing for the upcoming season. He believes, although many of the Wildcat harriers are inexperienced with collegiate competition, his team will learn how to become effective cross country competitors during the year.
"Our young runners have done a good job of preparing for the season with strong summer workouts," he said. "If they can develop the process of what it takes to become a strong collegiate competitor, the strong results will then fall into place."
In order to help develop Kansas State's young runners, Cole has put together a schedule which will increase in the amount and quality of the competition, as the Wildcats prepare for the Big 12 Championships on Nov. 1 in Austin, Texas.
The season opens with a trip to the Hurricane Festival hosted by the University of Tulsa on Saturday, Aug. 30. The early portion of the schedule continues with the Wildcats playing host to the Kansas State Harrier Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 13.
"The early meets in August and September allow us to get into the swing of things," Cole said. "The short course races allow the runners to get a taste of collegiate competition and is basically an opportunity for us to train and help the team build towards the end of the season."
The competition in late September and into October gets a little stiffer when the Wildcats travel to the Woody Greeno Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 20, followed up by a trip to the Cowboy Jamboree hosted by Oklahoma State on Saturday, Oct. 4. In the final tune-up for the Wildcats before the championship meets begin, K-State will participate in the Chile Pepper Invitational hosted by Arkansas on Saturday, Oct. 18 in Fayetteville, Ark.
"The final three meets of the regular season will give the runners a chance to compete in large meets," Cole said. "The OSU Jamboree and the Chile Pepper Invitational will give us the opportunity to go up against some of the best competition in the country and will prepare us for the championship meets at the end of the season."
Once the championship meets arrive, the men's and women's squad will be led by a number of talented runners to help improve on last year's finishes in the Big 12 Conference.
On the men's side, the Wildcats return their top runner from last season, junior Mathew Chesang. Chesang was the top finisher for the Wildcats in every meet last season and finished seventh at last year's Big 12 Championships. The All-Big 12 Conference and Midwest Region junior from Eldama Revine, Kenya, won the individual title at two meets last season, winning the K-State Harrier Relays and the K-State Wildcat Invitational.
"Mathew had a very good season for us last year and will be leading the charge this season," Cole said. "He has come back to school extremely fit and will continue to compete at a high level."
Rogers Kipchumba, a sophomore from Eldoret, Kenya, will provide the Wildcats with a second runner who should compete for a top-15 finish at the Big 12 Championships. Kipchumba was plagued by injuries last season, but did manage a fifth-place finish at the K-State Wildcat Invitational in his only action in 2002.
"After injuries last season, he has prepared well over the summer and should make an impact," Cole said. "If he runs to his potential, he could provide us with another top 10 finisher at the conference meet."
Other Wildcats who should help contribute to the point totals are sophomore Joe Moore, freshman Micha Gamper, senior Trevor Smith and freshman Hiral Bhakta.
"These guys will provide us with strong depth at every meet," Cole said. "With Moore and Gampa, we have two runners who should consistently place high at meets. If that is the case, all we need is for one of the other runners to step-up and give us a strong fifth runner and a good opportunity to finish in the top half of the conference."
On the women's side, the team is faced with the challenge of replacing four-time All-American Amy Mortimer. With the departure of Mortimer, the challenge of leading the team will be placed on the shoulders of junior Trisha Culbertson.
Culbertson was consistently the Wildcats' second-best runner last season and led the Wildcats at one meet with her second-place finish at the K-State Wildcat Invitational. In addition, Culbertson finished 30th at the Big 12 Championships and ran to an 11th place finish at the prestigious Chile Pepper Invitational.
"Trisha has been a strong a performer for us her first two seasons," Cole said. "She is an extremely diligent runner who has prepared well over the summer and is ready to have an excellent season."
After significant improvements during her freshman and sophomore seasons, junior Shauna Burrell looks to step into the No. 2 position for the Wildcats during the 2003 season. Burrell had several strong showings last year, finishing 29th at the Chile Pepper Invitational and 67th at the Big 12 Championships.
"Shauna looks extremely good coming into this season," Cole said. "If she improves as much as she has during her freshman and sophomore seasons, she should have an extremely good season."
Cate Holston, a senior from Topeka, Kan., should be a solid third-runner for the Wildcats this season. Although she was unable to compete last year due to injury, Holston is prepared to contribute to the 2003 squad.
"She has returned to form after her injury last year," Cole said. "After a strong summer, she should do extremely well for us this year."
Other Wildcats looking to contribute this year is Swiss native Stephanie Murer, who finished 21st at the 2003 World Junior Cross Country Championships, and junior Tina Todd, a junior college All-American from Butler County Community College. Lysaira Roman-Del Valle, the 2003 Big 12 outdoor champion in the 800 meters, will also make her move from the track to the terrain this season, providing the Wildcats with added support and depth.
With so much young talent, it is clear what the Wildcats will need to do in order to finish in the top half of the conference.
"We are in an extremely strong lead," Cole said. "As long as we pace ourselves and the younger runners learn what it takes to excel at the collegiate level, then we have the opportunity to have a strong showing at the Big 12 Championships.
"The attitude and work ethic is there, we just need to make sure we stay focused on the long term development of the team."