While Wichita State's women's cross country team has dominated the Missouri Valley Conference, the men's team has been a source of frustration.
Former coach Marc Burns believed the program moved closer to contending, only to fall back with a series of close misses on the recruiting trail. Now it's up to new coach Kirk Hunter to revive a program that hasn't won an MVC title since 1987 and hasn't finished higher than third since 2003.
"We've got quite a bit of potential," Hunter said. "If we are able to get our entire team together, when it counts, they could be a surprise. There's some talent."
WSU opens the season today in the JK Gold Classic at the RAFT Golf Course near Augusta. The Shockers usually treat this race as a part of their early season training and this year is no different. Junior Jackson Toroitich, who ran for Hunter at Butler Community College, will not run. Junior Trace Kendrick will run unattached.
"They're not feeling at their absolute best, and we don't want to risk hurting them," Hunter said. "We're protecting them."
Among the colleges competing are Kansas State, Bradley, Tabor, Southwestern, Butler Community College and Cowley College.
Hunter is counting on Toroitich, who won the MVC 5,000 meters at the indoor championships last winter, to strengthen a team that finished seventh in the Valley in 2009. He won the Region VI meet and placed fifth in the NJCAA cross country meet last fall.
"Jackson has a tremendous amount of talent," Hunter said. "Cross country is a strong point for his running style. He will definitely make some big waves once he gets started."
WSU also returns senior Marius Sava, who won the JK Gold Classic in 2009. He finished 24th in the MVC meet to lead WSU.
The WSU women, favored to win the MVC for a sixth straight year, return four of the top six runners. Senior Tonya Nero placed third in the MVC meet and Leah Thompson finished sixth. Newcomers Scarla Nero, Tonya's sister, and Patrober Murindat are junior-college transfers whom Hunter expects to contribute. Murindat won the Region VI title for Hunter last fall at Butler.