OMAHA — Eck Stadium will always be a frequent host for the Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament. Wichita State will always be able to call on advantages — attendance, availability, artificial turf — that other MVC schools can't consistently beat.
However, we Wichitans may need to adjust our definition of frequent, at least in the short term. The future may give Eck Stadium the tournament two or three times every five seasons, instead of four out of five.
"Too soon to tell," WSU athletic director Eric Sexton said. "As more institutions make commitments to upgrading facilities, there is going to be more competition."
WSU can beat other schools with its bid, if need be. It's not always about the money, however. With a building boom rolling, the Valley wants to reward schools who upgrade stadiums.
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That trend may or may not fade in a few years. WSU will always be there, ready to host.
"We've typically always bid over the minimum," Sexton said. "We will continue to bid."
WSU has been host of the tournament 25 times since 1978, some years earning it by winning the regular-season title. As coach Gene Stephenson points out, a lot of places held it once. The MVC tried a neutral site in 1995 in Springfield, Ill. Evansville hosted in 1998. The Valley comes back to WSU when other places can't make the money work. Eck Stadium is always available and its artificial turf combats rain delays.
"Wichita has a proven track record of drawing and generating revenues," MVC associate commissioner Joe Mitch said. "That's a given. That is a factor in their favor, a big plus for Wichita State."
That won't change, but more schools may be serious about making the money work for them.
Next week, the MVC officials and athletic directors hold their spring meetings and award championship sites for 2011-12 is on the agenda. WSU, Missouri State and Indiana State bid at least the minimum of $25,000 for the baseball tournament. The buzz around the tournament is that it is headed to Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo. Missouri State hosted in 2004 and 2007. The Texas League schedule rarely frees up dates in a park controlled by the Double-A Springfield Cardinals.
If so, WSU will not host the tournament in consecutive years for the first time since it restarted its baseball program in 1978.
After years of limited options, Creighton, Indiana State and Illinois State are interested. The Valley couldn't pass up an opportunity to play this season's tournament at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha and there's no reason to think it won't return to Omaha. Indiana State needs to upgrade its press box to host. Illinois State opened a new stadium in 2010 that may be adequate for hosting.
"There are schools thinking that if they get to host the tournament, it will give them leverage to upgrade their facilities," Mitch said. "Indiana State is one that has made strides in that direction and I think they want to continue to improve their stadium."
The chance to play in the new home of the College World Series thrilled coaches and players. Omaha's convenience — most teams stayed at hotels within walking distance of the stadium — added to the experience. Coaches see variety as a positive for the tournament.
"I think the more teams you have with facilities that are capable of hosting, the better it is," Illinois State coach Mark Kingston said. "It makes our league stronger. I don't think it's coincidence that as the facilities have gotten better, our league has gotten better."
Finishing strong — No WSU female has won an NCAA track and field championship.
Senior Tonya Nero is the latest Shocker distance runner to put herself in the picture. She won the 10,000 meters at the NCAA West Preliminary on Thursday in Eugene, Ore. That qualifies her for the NCAA Championships in Des Moines beginning June 8.
"Without question, she is one of the favorites," WSU track and field coach Steve Rainbolt said. "She's running at that level regularly now."
Nero won the race with a time of 33 minutes, 24.12 seconds. Her season-best time is 33:11.71, which ranks second nationally. Loyola Marymount's Tara Erdmann, who owns the nation's top time of 33:10.15, finished fifth in the NCAA West at 33:33.63.
Since the top 12 finishers qualified for the finals in Des Moines, there isn't overwhelming incentive to do anything other than advance.
Rainbolt, however, loved the way Nero ran her race.
"She took off in the last 200 meters and ran away from those other girls," he said. "She looked beautiful. It was terrific display of power at the end of a long run."
WSU's Aliphine Tuliamuk also qualified in the 10,000 after finishing fifth. Javelin thrower Brett Trudo placed 12th to qualify for the NCAA finals.
WSU will take five athletes in six events to Drake Stadium.
On Saturday, Tuliamuk qualified by placing ninth in the 5,000 meters with a time of 16:06.05. Jordan Crawford placed 11th in the men's triple jump at 51 feet, 5 1/2 inches.
Tanya Friesen qualified in the heptathlon based on her points total (5,343) during the season.
Worth noting — Scotland's Kester Black signed a letter of intent with WSU's men's tennis team. He will be a freshman in 2011-12.... Coach Gregg Marshall's boys basketball camps run June 13-16 and June 27-30. WSU will hold a shooting camp on June 18. For information call 978-3252.