For the first time in around 10 years, Wichita State women’s cross country team can feel overlooked and unappreciated.
It is understandable. The Shockers are without Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton, who finished fourth at the NCAA meet and won the past two Missouri Valley Conference titles. Without a dominant front-runner, it is hard to consider WSU a contender. MVC coaches picked them fourth in the preseason and the Shockers aren’t included in the top 15 of the Midwest region.
That is quite a comedown for a program that hasn’t finished lower than second since it finished third in 2004. In 2005, WSU won the first of six straight MVC titles and it finished second behind Illinois State the past two seasons.
“When you lose Aliphine, someone of that talent, you think probably you’re really going to be hurting,” WSU coach Kirk Hunter said. “In all honesty, I had a great recruiting year. I think we’re being underestimated because we’re so young.”
WSU’s cross country teams open the season on Saturday at the Butler County triangular in El Dorado. On Sept. 7, WSU holds the JK Gold Classic at the RAFT Golf Course in Augusta.
Junior Kaitlyn McLeod is WSU’s top returner. She finished 12th in the MVC with a time of 18 minutes, 3 seconds in the 5-kilometer race. Senior Samantha Shukla (18:13) finished 20th with senior Elida Bailon (18:16) in 23rd. Sophomore Emily Hornbeck, from Derby, is making a strong push for the top of roster after finishing 56th (19:29) in the MVC meet.
“You could tell she came from summer training extremely fit,” Hunter said.
Junior Ebeissa Nyandwi, a transfer from Iowa Central Community College, finished fourth in the NJCAA national meet with a time of 18:28.7.
“She has really impressed me,” Hunter said. “She could emerge as another great one for Wichita State.”
Freshmen Sidney Hirsch and Lycia Hollon are pushing for spots in the top eight.
“The girls can go 10 deep and have lots of talent,” Hunter said. “I’ve always loved the pack, the teams that are packed in like that. If we can have eight or nine girls who are constantly changing who the top runner is, then we’re going to have a really strong team.”
WSU’s men’s team is picked sixth after finishing third in 2012. Sterling Spencer, who finished 15th in the MVC race (25:06 in the 8k) is injured and may sit out this season. Jake Wike and Tomas Cotter, who finished in the top 20, graduated.
Kelvin Busienei, who finished 23rd (25:29) is back. Chris Burnett (27th, 25:36) is the leader in summer workouts.
“If he stays healthy, he’ll be one of the best we’ve had,” Hunter said.