Wichita State cross country coach Kirk Hunter faces opposite challenges with his men’s and women’s teams.
He knows Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton will be the Missouri Valley Conference’s top female runner. He doesn’t know who will fall in behind her in the standings. His men’s team appears to be deep, but no runner has proven he can finish near the top of the conference race.
That represents progress for the men’s team, which finished fourth in the MVC in 2011 and didn’t place a runner in the top 15. But four of WSU’s top five return and Hunter added recruits who give him at least eight solid runners. The Shockers haven’t finished higher than fourth since 2003, when they placed third in the MVC meet.
“We have much more depth of quality than we’ve had in past years,” he said. “Last year, when we went to the Missouri Valley, we had five guys who could score and had no room for error. This year, we line up eight.”
WSU’s top returners are senior Marcos Bailon, who finished 22nd in the MVC meet, and Derby senior Jake Wike, who finished 20th.
“Bailon looks great,” Hunter said. “He did an amazing summer campaign it looks like, and is extremely strong. Jake Wike looks the best I’ve ever seen.”
Senior Tomas Cotter and sophomore Sterling Spencer also finished in the top 30 at the MVC meet. They will be pushed by several newcomers, including Brady Johnson, a freshman from Plainville who is making a big impression.
“The only person that is really clear-cut ahead of him is Marcos,” Hunter said. “He’s right around the front group all the time. To me, it’s incredible for a freshmen coming in to run with the seniors. He’s not intimidated at all.”
Hunter also has high expectations for freshman Kain Anderson, the Class 6A runnerup in 2011 who is slowed by injuries. Kelvin Busienei, a transfer from Butler Community College, finished 16th in the NJCAA Division I meet. Chris Burnett, a transfer from SUNY Dehli (N.Y.), finished second in the NJCAA Division III meet.
The women’s team is picked third in the MVC, a step down after the Shockers won six straight titles before finishing behind Illinois State in 2011. Tuliamuk-Bolton, the defending MVC champion, placed 12th in the NCAA meet.
“Aliphine actually came back stronger this year than last year, which is a great start,” Hunter said. “She is pushing the girls hard. She wants to get that title back.”
Scarla Nero and Patrober Murindat, both of whom finished in the top 10 in 2011, are gone. That leaves Hunter with a lot of unknowns and a young group. Junior Samantha Shukla, who finished 17th, is the only other returner who scored in the MVC meet.
“We are relying on a young group, a very young group,” Hunter said.
Notes — The college field grew to 18 schools, including Kansas State, Friends, Southwestern, Butler and Hutchinson. The high school field includes 12 schools, including East, Kapaun Mount Carmel, Andover, Maize South, Campus, North and Trinity.… Tuliamuk-Bolton is the defending women’s champion. She can become the first repeat champion since WSU’s Desiraye Osburn won the 2004 and 2005 races.