Making Strides: 2004 Cross Country Team Looks to Improve on Conference Status
Beginning his 11th season on the Wildcat track and field staff, coach Michael Smith takes over as the head coach of Wildcat Cross Country in 2004.
After a season with the women's team finishing in seventh place and the men's team finishing in ninth, the 2004 K-state men’s and women’s cross country team’s look to improve upon their rankings in the Big 12 Conference.
"First and foremost, we want to excel at the conference level. If we can be a competitive team in the Big 12 conference, then the regional and national success will follow. To do that, we need to depend on our proven returners."
One of the returning runners on the men’s side is Mathew Chesang, who was the top K-State finisher in all seven meets a year ago, including two meet wins, and five top-five finishes. Chesang's Big 12 resume includes a 28th place finish as a freshman, an 11th-place finish as a sophomore, and a fifth place finish as a junior. Building on his conference success, Mathew has run well at the NCAA Midwest Regional Cross Country Championships the past two years posting an 11th-place finish as a sophomore and a third-place finish as a junior, which earned him a trip to the 2003 NCAA National Championship.
"Three of the top five athletes in the Big 12 from last year are gone. So, on paper, he is the number two returnee," Smith said. "I think other than his brother (Benson Chesang of
Behind Chesang, Smith has seen significant progress from
The top Wildcat returnee on the women’s side is Trisha Culbertson, having a stellar 2003 season finishing four meets as K-State's top runner, registering three overall top-10 finishes, and collecting one meet win. Culbertson, like Chesang, holds a strong resume from her first three years at K-State. At conference meets, Culbertson has finished 23rd, 30th, and 16th. As a junior in 2003, Culbertson finished ninth at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship, which earned her an invite to the 2003 NCAA National Championship. There seems to be no let-down in sight as Smith points out that Trisha is improving even into her senior year.
"Trisha is training very well. I would say that she is probably at a higher level now than she was a year ago. Her progression up until this year had been steady and predictable, but I think as we head into this cross country season she has jumped ahead of where I thought she would be. Her summer training and her early season workouts indicate that she is as fit as she was at the end of the outdoor season last year, which is significant because she was ready to run pretty fast at the end of the outdoor season."
Following closely behind Culbertson, Smith expects Lysaira Roman Del Valle and Shauna Burrell to have breakthrough seasons in 2004. "Lysaira was relatively new to K-state last fall and still adapting to the rigors of our training regimen. Now she has another year under her belt and is sticking with Trisha in workouts. She expects to finish in the top 20 at the Big 12 meet. When she does that, and Shauna jumps up to the top 30, we’re in pretty good position for a top 6 finish if our other people do their part."
In addition to the top returnees, every team needs to have a good supply of newcomers. Coach Smith is very excited about what the Wildcat newcomers bring to the table.
"On the men's side, I would say that the top newcomer is Tyler Roark, a transfer from
outs that we are doing here. My guess is, for sure, that he will be in the top five."
Roark placed 28th in last year's Missouri Valley Conference Championships with a time of 25:21 on the 8K course. He also ran in the NCAA Midwest Regional Cross Country Championships where he finished 75th with a time of 33:08 on the 10K course.
Two talented freshmen in Stephanie Lavin and Whitney Patton and a successful junior college transfer in Christina Lara enter on the women's side and could make an impact this season.
"Stephanie was very competitive as a prep athlete, placing 11th in the 4A
Two home meets highlight the 2004 season as the Wildcat Invitational is held on Saturday, Sept. 11 in
"The Cowboy Jamboree (Oct. 2) is when we should be running our full lineup and we have expectations both individually and as a team," said Smith. "The month of October is a big month. We are facing teams from all over the country at that point. We will find out during that time that if we are any better than we were last year."
Back to back trips to Illinois and Indiana round out the 2004 cross country season as K-State travels to Peoria on Saturday, Nov. 13 for the 2004 NCAA Midwest Regional and the following week, Mon, Nov. 22, athletes who qualify for nationals will run in the 2004 NCAA Championships in Terre Haute.
"On paper, we have one returning letter-winner on the men's side, and two on the women's side. We have no indications, on paper, that we are going to be competitive at all. But, from what I've seen in practice and what I know that these people are capable of, they have a chance to run better and place higher," Smith said. "I've seen that if you give them expectations, make it possible with personnel, and if you lead them to believe that they can to do something, then chances are that they will. If they embrace that, then we should be in the top half of the conference. That would be a step forward, and then we can deem that as progress for the program."