Wichita State cross country coach Marc Burns changed his team's schedule two weeks ago with today in mind. Earlier this month, he sent the Shockers to the Pre-National Meet in Terre Haute, Ind., instead of a scheduled trip to Arkansas.
He believes the switch will pay off in the Missouri Valley Conference meet today in Peoria, Ill. The WSU women, ranked the pre-race favorite, will try to win a fifth straight conference title.
"Pre-Nationals is such a competitive race," Burns said. "You can get swallowed up. Now we're battle-tested."
The Shocker women finished 17th in the 37-team field, beating regionally ranked teams such as Kansas, Baylor, Georgia and MVC rival Illinois State. Burns believes running against that competition and jockeying for position in a crowded field will make today seem pleasant.
"Now we're callused," he said. "I think that helps us be prepared to run at a high level in this race."
WSU juniors Tonya Nero (36th with a time of 21 minutes, 25.4 seconds in the 6,000-meter race) and Leah Thompson (38th, 21:28.2) were the top MVC finishers at the Pre-National race. Burns figures they need to finish in the top four today to start WSU off right. Nero, a transfer from Colby Community College, has steadily improved this fall. She credits her workouts with teammates pushing her to improve.
"Practices make you better," she said. "When I came here, the girls were running the same times as I was."
Senior Irene Kosgei is the Valley's top returning finisher. She placed third in last fall's meet. She has not run as well this fall, which is the same pattern as 2008. Kosgei finished 128th at Pre-Nationals with a time of 22:26.7.
"I think she could do something very similar," Burns said. "She's doing it in training."
Seniors Rachel York and Olivia Martinez are trying to win their fourth MVC team titles. Burns considers them the best No. 4 and No. 5 runners in the Valley.
"Each of us will play a role," Nero said. "Everyone else believes in me, so I have to believe in myself."
WSU's men are picked to finish sixth. Burns wants his team to place in the top four. He would like the Shockers to make their workouts translate into better times today.
"Everything about this season has been a step up, except the races," he said. "We're training at a new level _ higher mileage, higher quality workouts."