Wichita State’s men’s track and field team should compete for the conference title this weekend, in large part because of its distance runners.
Senior Jake Wike waited a long time for that feeling.
He is thrilled his running mates are expected to perform at the Missouri Valley Conference championships in Des Moines. Early in his career, the men’s distance runners played little role in the team’s successes and stood far behind its dominant counterparts on the women’s team.
“When I was a freshman … we weren’t a significant part of the track team, and in cross county we would get seventh,” he said. “Things were pretty down a few years ago.”
MVC coaches voted the WSU women unanimous favorites to win a third consecutive title. Indiana State, also a two-time defending champion, is picked first on the men’s side, with WSU second. The Shockers finished second last season and will try to win their first title since 2010.
“The strength of our (men’s) team is very much in the middle distance and distance events,” coach Steve Rainbolt said.
Junior Ryan Hocker, the indoor champion, leads the MVC in the 800 meters with a time of 1 minute, 51.46 seconds. Junior Kelvin Busienei (1:52.86) ranks fifth with Wike 10th (1:54.58). Senior Tomas Cotter ranks second in the 1,500 (3:49.45), first in the 3,000 steeplechase (8:45.73) and fifth in the 5,000 (14:38.63). In the 10,000, senior Marcos Bailon (30:36.74) and sophomore Justin Scott (32:33.26) rank sixth and seventh.
Cotter will endure a busy weekend. Last year, he won the MVC steeplechase and qualified for the NCAA championships. He also finished third in the 1,500.
“He’s a steeplechase specialist,” Rainbolt said. “He competes hard in every race he runs and he’ll be in other races if we need him.”
The distance group improved because of stability after departures thinned out the talent early in Wike’s career. Distance coach Kirk Hunter added transfers such as a Cotter and Bailon to speed the improvement. Last fall, WSU finished third in MVC cross country, its best finish since 2003.
“I’m excited about how many points we can score,” Wike said. “Quite a few guys left during my freshman year and things weren’t looking good. Recruiting and then guys sticking around all combined to actually make good things happen.”
The WSU women are No. 25 nationally in the coaches association computer ranking. Rainbolt expects Indiana State to emerge as the top challenger. The Shockers won the indoor championship in February, finishing nine points ahead of Indiana State.
“Indiana State has really got a nice team, and Illinois State is right there on the women’s side with a bunch of good distance runners and some really fine athletes that can make life difficult,” he said.
Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton should score big points for WSU. She is ranked third nationally in the 5,000 (15:18.86) and the 10,000 (32:07.20). Her 1,500 time of 4:29.56 ranks first in the MVC. Tanya Friesen leads the MVC in the high jump (5 feet, 10 1/2 inches) and the heptathlon (5,757 points). Mariah Garcia ranks first in the discus (181-9).