Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State track team benefits from vast array of decathletes, heptathletes

It is unofficial, yet revealing. Count decathletes and heptathletes on six Missouri Valley Conference track and field rosters, and the total is 17.

The Wichita State roster lists 15.

The multi-events matter at WSU. The athletes joke that when coach Steve Rainbolt looks around the room during a team meeting, he is thinking that 80 percent of his team should be doing the multis.

"Almost every recruit he has he talks to about multis," sophomore Tanya Friesen said. "We always give him a hard time about it —'Hey, are they going to be a multi?' "

WSU starts the MVC Outdoor Championships on Friday in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Its emphasis on the decathlon (men) and heptathlon (women) is one reason why the Shockers are favored in the men's and women's meets.

"Most of my focus starts and finishes with the multi-eventers," Rainbolt said. "They earn their keep. They score a ton of points at the conference meet."

At the MVC indoor meet in February, WSU's men claimed five of the top seven spots in the heptathlon. The women grabbed four of the top seven places in the pentathlon. WSU enters the outdoor meet with its men owning six of the top seven points totals in the decathlon. Its women own four of the top seven in the heptathlon.

Many schools treat the multis as a sideshow. Thanks to Rainbolt's love for the events, it's a main attraction. He competed in the decathlon at Kansas and never lost his affection.

"We have a lot of recruits that come in just for the multis," Friesen said. "He has such a passion for it."

At meets, the Shockers overwhelm with their numbers. At practice, the athletes push each other. Away from the track, they get together for meals.

"Usually every school has a couple of them, maybe three or four at the most," said senior Krzystof Slupkowksi, the MVC's decathlon leader with 7,350 points. "We have seven or eight guys, and the same with girls. I feel like it's not just a practice, just a regular workout, it's a sports camp. We are like a family at every practice."

When the coach loves an event, it is bound to be successful. Rainbolt recruits, as the joke goes, with an eye on versatile athletes who can grow into something more. Many of his athletes are from Kansas towns such as Grinnell, Buhler and Concordia — small-town athletes who don't mind a challenge and don't cling to specialization.

"It's not an easy event," senior Jordan Zerr said. "As more and more events go on, the more tired you get. He (Rainbolt) brings such as positive attitude — that this is greatest thing ever. It's contagious."

Sprinters may work four years to shave tenths of a second off their times. Rainbolt loves to see a high school sprinter learn to pole vault and throw the javelin. He is thrilled when one of his multi-event athletes improves enough to help the team in another event.

"These guys develop, develop and develop," Rainbolt said. "In the (multi-events), you see dramatic improvements. That's awesome when somebody comes in and learns a new event."

For Friesen, ranked second in the heptathlon with 5,343 points, hurdles loomed as a challenge. Redshirt freshman Austin Bahner was better known as a basketball player at Heights. Zerr, from Grinnell, had to learn throws. In high school, he ran on a dirt track and high jumped off gravel. His times in high school didn't wow Rainbolt, so Zerr walked on. He finished second in the heptathlon at the indoor MVC meet and is ranked fourth in the decathlon with 6,960 points.

"I was an average all-around athlete," he said. "But I could do distance events, sprints and jumps. I thought this would be something I might fit in well with."