Wichita State's Danielle Walker can't pretend to like cross country. Her sport is track. She likes running middle distances, not the kilometers upon kilometers that cross country requires.
"It's definitely not my forte," she said. "I've always run cross country, I've just never enjoyed it."
Walker, a junior from Lichfield, England, is making the best of her situation. Her recent success does help her tolerate running the hills and trails of middle America in the fall.
She ran a personal-best time of 21 minutes, 58.1 seconds over 6 kilometers in last week's NCAA pre-nationals in Terre Haute, Ind. She finished third among Shockers, a mere eight seconds behind senior Leah Thompson. With performances like that, she has become one of WSU's top cross country runners entering Saturday's Missouri Valley Conference championships at the RAFT Golf Course in Augusta. WSU will be favored to win a six straight championship with runners such as Walker providing depth behind seniors Tonya Nero and Thompson.
"She just looked terrific the whole way (at pre-nationals)," WSU coach Kirk Hunter said. "She's shown how important she is to this team. As long as she keeps that consistency, there are very few limits on her."
Many runners consider themselves specialists, so Walker's attitude toward cross country isn't abnormal. Hunter is getting her to learn that building strength and endurance will lead to better times in the spring.
"I've been trying to preach to her how much this was going to benefit her track racing," Hunter said. "She's going to use this as a jumping point to increase everything else."
Walker is listening. She divides races into small chunks in her mind so that running a long distance isn't so intimidating.
"I've got my head around it more mentally this year than in years past," she said. "I haven't really let the distance get to me. Breaking it down and not letting myself get worked up about the distance or the fact that it's cross country helps."
Step up — WSU's women's golf team finished second in its first tournament of the fall. It finished in the top half of the next two.
Those are solid results for a program without much recent success. Last week, WSU won the eight-team Shocker Invitational at Sand Creek Station in Newton to give coach Tom McCurdy more proof his team is improving. Tournament wins aren't taken for granted at WSU. The Shockers won the McNeese Cowgirl Invitational in 2005. Before that, the drought stretched to 1994.
"We focus on the conference championship, and you've got to learn how to beat everybody," he said. "We just hope that winning is contagious."
Gretchen Huhnerkoch won the tournament by shooting a 2-under-par 142, a WSU 36-hole record. Natalie Samb finished second at 144. Both are sophomores. Senior Adin Stromgren finished third at 146.
McCurdy thought the Shockers came close to that type of performance last year.
"We were a better team than our scores showed," he said. "We've just been waiting. This year we've had five players shoot scores around par, just not at the same day and same time. We're capable of this."
The Shockers begin their final tournament of the fall on Monday in Charleston, S.C. Their spring season starts in February and the fall results should give them hopes of contending at the MVC Tournament in April.
"Knowing how to win is really important," Huhnerkoch said. "It's different, being in that situation and dealing with the pressure. To be so close these last couple tournaments, and finally to be able to close it out (Tuesday) makes it all the more sweeter."
Hannah on hold — Former Shocker guard Clevin Hannah expects to know more about his basketball future soon.
His agent is looking into overseas leagues, perhaps in France. Hannah may hear more on those options this week.
If that doesn't happen, Hannah will try his luck in NBA Development League draft on Nov. 1. The money is better overseas. Hannah has talked with former Shockers Ramon Clemente and P.J. Couisnard about their experiences playing outside the United States. Hannah is in Wichita, working out and playing to keep sharp.
"Europe, that's what I really want to do," Hannah said. "I'd like to travel and see something different."
More basketball — Single-game tickets for non-conference men's games go on sale Nov. 1. Tickets are $23 and are available at Koch Arena, by calling 316-978-3267 or at goshockers.com.
Tickets for the game against Tulsa at Intrust Bank Arena will not go on sale until Nov. 8. Tickets are $26 and are available at the arena, by calling 316-755-7328 or through selectaseat.com.
Women's non-conference tickets also go on sale on Nov. 1. Cost is $8.
* Forward E. Victor Nickerson will choose between DePaul and Charlotte soon, Norcross (Ga.) coach Jesse McMillan said in an e-mail. Nickerson, ranked No. 133 in Rivals.com's top 150 seniors, visited WSU in September.
* MVC basketball media day is Tuesday in St. Louis. Coaches Gregg Marshall and Jody Adams and players J.T. Durley, Graham Hatch, Alicia Sanchez and Jessica Diamond are scheduled to represent WSU.