For Wichita State track and field athletes, the running, jumping and throwing is the heart of what they do. Cheering, well, that’s the soul.
So when Aliphine Tuliamuk earned All-America honors in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters in the NCAA indoor meet, the experience lacked something, or somebody. She represented WSU as the lone Shocker, and she didn’t enjoy much off the track.
“I told them I’m really tired of going to nationals by myself — it’s really not fun,” she said. “After you get done running, you’re not excited about watching somebody else. I would like to cheer somebody else. I would like to talk about, ‘Yea, we have somebody else here,’ like people at other schools.”
Tuliamuk is much happier this week at the NCAA outdoor championships, where she is joined by seven teammates. WSU’s crew feels like a landmark to coach Steve Rainbolt, who is in his 12th season with the Shockers. In 2003, one woman and eight men competed, but four of those men ran a relay. A year ago, he took five athletes to the national outdoor meet.
“There is real sense we can go to this meet and score some points and get some things done,” he said.
Tuliamuk will run in the women’s 10,000 meters on Thursday and the 5,000 on Saturday, and is a contender to finish in the top three in both. She is not the only Shocker who expects to finish in the top eight, scoring team points and earning All-America honors, or the top 16, which earns second-team All-America honors.
Senior 110 high hurdlers Lawson Montgomery and Todd McKown are ranked in the top 15, giving WSU the only school with two competitors in the event. McKown, from Valley Center, moved to No. 4 with a school-record time of 13.42 seconds in the NCAA West Preliminary Round last month. Montgomery, from Bennington, is No. 13 with a time of 13.63. They run in the semifinals Thursday night with the final on Saturday.
“That is legitimate, upper-level fast,” Rainbolt said of McKown’s time. “He appears more and more ready each day.”
All the Shockers like to cheer on teammates. Nobody relies on a teammate more than WSU’s national hurdlers.
“A lot of people, they don’t get to see the best competition until meet days,” Montgomery said. “We push each other so hard. When we get to the big meets, we’re not afraid of any competition, because we’ve seen the best already.”
Senior javelin thrower Brett Trudo ranks 16th nationally and is coming off his best performance of the season, 237 feet, 1 inch. He is making his fourth appearance in the national meet, with a high finish of No. 23 a year ago. Trudo, from Wamego, competes Thursday.
Junior heptathlete Tanya Friesen qualified for the outdoor meet a year ago, but an Achilles tendon strain forced her to withdraw after four events.
“I wanted to make sure after the conference meet I took care of my body,” she said. “I’m feeling healthy this time around.”
Junior Tomas Cotter, in the men’s steeplechase, high jumper J’Lynn Ledesma, a sophomore, and hurdler Natalie Morerod, a sophomore, are at the national meet for the first time. Cotter is from Ireland. Ledesma, from Wellington, and Morerod, from Gardner, bring the total of Kansans qualified from WSU to six.
That fact makes Rainbolt proud. He coaches and recruits with the Missouri Valley Conference meets his first priority, putting team performance above individual accomplishments. His rosters are built with in-state athletes, many from small towns. Scholarship money is awarded based on performance in the conference meet and even elite athletes such as Tuliamuk are expected to run multiple events to score points for the team.
WSU’s large representation in Des Moines is a bonus for the program. Many of the athletes, such as Morerod, came to WSU with no expectations above helping the Shockers at conference meets. She originally planned to attend an NAIA school before Rainbolt recruited her.
“I didn’t even know if I was going to run track in college,” she said. “I went here for the team. I didn’t expect this, but I’m not that surprised considering the coaches that we have and the teammates I have. It’s no surprise we’re Wheatshockers, and they’re harvesting the crap out of us right now.”