State Colleges

Newman cross country adds high-quality depth to conference champion

+Josh Schepis wants to keep pushing, to keep challenging Newman’s cross-country teams until they find out exactly how good they can be.

And that doesn’t mean stopping with a Heartland Conference championship, which the men’s team won last year.

“We had a little success last year and it was a great experience,” said Schepis, entering his 13th season as the Jets’ coach. “But we obviously have bigger goals than that, bigger goals than winning then conference.”

Schepis has the pieces to make another run at the men’s title, led by a stellar recruiting class and a returning all-conference runner in senior Peter Neidhart.

“(Newman athletic director) Vic Trilli gave us the resources to go out and get some high-caliber runners,” Schepis said. “We’re really excited about the group we have coming in.”

Newman’s top recruits were local runners, led by Bishop Carroll’s Gage Garcia. Garcia, who drew interest from several Division I schools, was a regional champion and ran on several state championship teams at Carroll. Schepis also landed regional champions in Andale’s Jacob Wallace and Oxford’s Mark Sutton.

“This is, by far, the best recruiting class we’ve ever had,” Schepis said. “We’ve got four or five different people that we feel like could end up being our best runner on any given day.”

One of those is Neidhart, a Dodge City native who finished seventh at the Heartland meet last season and is late joining the Jets in the preseason because he’s finishing up a summer internship at the Mathematics Research Experience at Cal State-San Bernardino.

“I’ve been running six or seven days each week, usually in the mid-40s,” Niedhart said. “It’s a fantastic place to train our here, right next to the mountains with these amazing views so I’ve been a little spoiled. When I get home, all the tracks will be flat and fast, and that’s the way we like it.”

The Jets could get help from Oklahoma City University transfer Kenneth Kimini, who was an all-conference runner in the Sooner Athletic Conference last season. Martin Calderon, Rose Hill’s Joey Kenneson and Joktan Tanui were all All-Heartland last season for Newman and return.

What sank the Jets in the postseason last year was a stacked South Central Region which features some of the best teams in the nation. How good is the South Central? All the other regions in the country get to qualify two teams for nationals — this one gets six.

“We went up to Colorado and the teams there definitely had a home-field advantage, but the race did have some redeeming qualities for us,” Niedhart said. “Mainly that we still beat (Heartland Conference foe) Dallas Baptist. This year, the regional is in Texas so that might help us a little bit.”

The women’s team finished second to Dallas Baptist in the Heartland last season — the third straight runner-up finish for the Jets. Newman returns a pair of of All-Heartland runners in Rubi Torres and Taylor Carlson. Freshmen Kenzie Wills (Andover Central) and McKayla Crawford (Wichita North) should provide an immediate lift.