Wichita State Shockers

WSU notes: Tomas Cotter conquers obstacles

Not everyone wants to run the steeplechase, not with its barriers and water hazards. Not everyone knows what the race is, which means Wichita State senior Tomas Cotter often needs to explain his favorite race.

“It’s a big story sometimes,” he said. “A lot of people relate it to the steeplechase in horse racing, and so I say that’s basically it.”

Cotter, from Dundalk, Ireland, is one of the NCAA’s best at navigating the obstacles in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase. He will run in the NCAA championships for a second time this week in Eugene, Ore. He needed a bit of luck to qualify in 2012, when two competitors fell down while crossing the final water jump and he moved up from fifth to third to grab the last spot. He finished 17th at the national meet with a time of 8 minutes, 49.85 seconds.

This season, he qualified with a time of 8:41.02, placing third, in last month’s NCAA West Preliminary in Austin. Cotter goes to the national meet with higher goals. The top eight finishers earn All-American honors.

“I was very excited to go to nationals last year,” he said. “This year, it’s expected. I know if I just do what I’ve been doing all year, I can definitely make the finals.”

The steeplechase challenges runners with 35 barriers, 28 hurdle jumps and seven water obstacles. A coach in Ireland suggested the event and, unlike many runners, Cotter needed no convincing. He mastered the mental game of clearing the barriers without slowing down to stutter.

“I ran well my first time and I never looked out,” he said. “I’ve been lucky that I adapted to it so well. The water barriers, I just love going over them.”

Cotter will join Austin Bahner (decathlon), Tanya Friesen (heptathlon), Jon Rizzo (javelin) and Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton (5,000, 10,000) in Eugene.

Off to D.C. — WSU basketball player Cleanthony Early will attend the Nike Skills Camp, hosted by NBA star Kevin Durant, June 28-30 in Washington, D.C.

Early, a 6-foot-8 senior this fall, also considered trying out for the World University Games, but the time commitment steered him toward Durant’s camp. Players who make the U.S. team for the World University Games will travel to Russia for more than two weeks in July.

The top players from the Durant camp are invited to the LeBron James Skills Academy on July 5-9 in Las Vegas.

At the top — WSU athletes Ehimen Orukpe and Lucia Kovalova earned the Elite 18 Award from the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Elite 18 winners are nominated by the schools to recognize academic and athletic achievement.

Orukpe, a men’s basketball player, carries a 3.52 grade-point average in mathematics. Kovalova, who plays tennis, has a 3.74 GPA in international business.

Date with the Tide — Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports Network reported on Twitter that Wichita State and Alabama will start a men’s basketball series this season at Alabama. In 2014-15, the Tide will come to Wichita.

WSU senior associate athletic director Darren Boatright declined to confirm the series, saying his policy is to not release scheduling information until a contract is signed.

The Shockers defeated Alabama in the 2011 NIT final and lost to the Tide the next season in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Academic dog days — Years of turnover and grade issues at Southern Illinois is catching up with the men’s basketball team, according the Southern Illinoisan newspaper.

SIU needs to total a 900 or better when the NCAA releases its Academic Progress Rate numbers this month. If not, the penalty could keep the Salukis out of postseason play, including the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

“The only think I can say about our APR is we’ve made great and continuous progress,” SIU coach Barry Hinson told the newspaper.

The APR measures a program’s success at retaining athletes and keeping them eligible. Schools that fall below a 930 for a four-year average risk penalties.

“After summer school, we’ll have a tremendously clearer picture, but it’s trending in the right direction,” SIU athletic director Mario Moccia told thesouthern.com.

Worth noting — WSU’s women’s track team enters the NCAA championships No. 21 in the coaches association computer rankings. It dropped three spots from the previous ranking.… WSU’s men’s tennis team finished its season ranked No. 63 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings. The Shockers went 17-8 and played in their first NCAA Tournament since 2010.… The MVC will resume its basketball media day on Oct. 30, after skipping last year. It will be held in Chicago at the Gentile Center on the campus of Loyola, the newest MVC member. The Ramblers exited the Horizon League after finishing second in the all-sports standings, its best in 34 years as a member. They won titles in softball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s indoor track and women’s outdoor track. Loyola will make its first visit to Wichita as an MVC member on Oct. 19 for a volleyball match.