Wichita– The Wichita State men’s and women’s cross country teams compete in their first of four regular season meets at 74e Annual JK Gold Classic at home Saturday.
The men run the 6,000 meters at 8:30 a.m., followed by the women’s 5,000 meters at 9 a.m. at 4 Mile Creek Resort in Augusta, Kan.
“Every time we start the year we just get a little taste of who we really are to see if we had a good summer training and if we’re going to run well as a team,” the head coach said. . Kirk Hunter said. “It’s really just a snapshot of what’s to come.”
The Wichita State men are returning two of four all-conference runners from the second-place team from last season (American Athletic Conference) and one from 2019. Bryce Merriman and Clayton Duchatschek finished 12e and 14erespectively, at the 2021 AAC Championships, and the Shockers will see the return of Ben Flowerswho wore the red jersey for the 2021 cross country season after placing seventh at the 2019 AAC Championships. The Shockers will look to some younger athletes to step up this season to fill the shoes of non-returners.
“Ben’s comeback is absolutely huge,” Hunter said. “I already know that Trey [Rios] will intensify. there is no doubt. I really want to see how Erik [Enriquez]Caesar [Ramirez] and Riley [Vandaveer] perform [this weekend] because they are going to be extremely important to any success we have this year.”
Shocker women enter this season without a defending AAC champion Yazmine Wright and runner all conferences Danielle Rinn and will rely on the leadership of Ababa Sullivan and Lubna Aldulaimi guide the young team.
“I expect Abeba and Lubna to do something, but we have to get more people to perform,” Hunter said. “Miranda Dick, Lea Jerkovic, Peyton Poggeall of these girls are going to have to step in for us to be successful.”
The women’s team has just three upper-class men and welcomes six newcomers, entering the year with the goal of improving throughout the season.
“I just see this team is going to have to grow as the season progresses,” Hunter said.
This year, the JK Gold Classic is a quad meet between the Shockers, Emporia State, Friends and Southwestern.
Duchatschek and Aldulaimi are the best returning from last year’s competition, having both finished sixth. The men run the 6,000 meters on Saturday before moving to the 8,000 meters for the remainder of the regular season and conference meet and finally tacking an additional 2,000 meters for the NCAA Midwest Regional and NCAA championships. The women start the year with three 5,000 meter races before moving to the 6,000 meter for the Bradley Pink Classic and post-season competitions.
“The level of competition is not the same because we will be racing all year round,” Hunter said. “[The races are] shorter distances, for the men in particular, so that just gives us some ideas of some of the things that we’re going to be looking to see from our team, but it gives us a chance to try to run as a team, to get everyone involved the world uniform and start the season.”
This meeting serves as rustproof and gives Hunter an idea of how the teams work together and follow the schedules he sets for them, but doesn’t necessarily write the script for the rest of the season.
“Last year I thought our men looked bad at this competition and we had the best year we’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s really hard to draw too many conclusions from this encounter because of that.”