Wichita State cross country coach Kirk Hunter won’t claim to know exactly how to repair a runner’s relationship with the sport. He does know it probably starts with a youth movement.
“We all start running for a reason — we love to run,” Hunter said. “Go back to your roots and enjoy running, enjoy going out for a run with the guys, enjoy talking to them. Just have fun.”
Running wasn’t fun for Joe Harter at Nebraska. He transferred to Wichita State in 2015 and credits Hunter with the personal touch that restored his enthusiasm.
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“He was a really, really good influence on me,” Harter said. “He really cares about every single one of his athletes. He cares about you more than you think. He’ll call you in his office and just talk to you about the season and how you’re feeling. Over the past few years, I’ve developed a love again for the sport and I like going out and running every day.”
On Saturday, Harter won the JK Gold Classic 6-kilometer race with a time of 18 minutes, 21.3 seconds to help the Shockers to the men’s team title at 4 Mile Creek Resort (formerly RAFT Golf Course).
Wichita State’s Rebekah Topham, running unattached to preserve redshirt plans, won the women’s race for the third consecutive season, turning in a time of 13:39.6 on a 4K course. No. 15 Missouri won the women’s team title with its top two runners sitting out.
Harter, a senior from Omaha, is excited about his progress over the summer and excited about the depth of Wichita State’s team. Most of all, he is happy to want to train again. By the end of the summer, he logged around 70 miles a week and thinks he found the right amount to increase his fitness without wearing down.
“It was hard for me to wake up every morning and want to go run,” he said. “I’ve really developed that love again. I want to compete. I want to train. I want to see how good I can be.”
Harter won his first meet since 2014 when he pulled away from teammate Nathan Wickoren, running unattached, over the final 800 meters to win Saturday. WSU’s Zach Penrod finished fourth and Gage Garcia fifth.
“I’m very happy for (Harter), because when you go through a tough patch like that, there’s a lot of people that don’t come back and will never run again,” Hunter said. “I hope it leads to some great things for this season.”
As Hunter expected, the Shockers showed solid depth. Eleven Shockers, five running unattached, finished in the top 20.
“Our team looked really solid,” Harter said. “Since I’ve been here … this is definitely the deepest team that we’ve had and I’m sure we’ll have a couple guys who ran unattached today will run attached for us this season.”
Topham, the defending Missouri Valley Conference champion, held off former Shocker Tonya Nero, running unattached, in the women’s race. Freshman Winny Koskei (14:17.5) placed seventh to lead the Shockers and freshman teammate Rita Schnaker (14:32.4) placed 14th.
“Two terrific freshmen performances,” Hunter said. “We’re so young. We’ve got so much to learn.”
Team scores — 1. Missouri 24, 2. Kansas State 63, 3. Wichita State 69, 4. Missouri State 83, 5. Friends 164, 6. Newman 172, 7. Southwestern 192, 8. Butler County 209, 9. Emporia State 278
Individuals — 1. Topham (un), 13:39.6; 2. Nero (un) 13:42.1; 3. Allen (MSU) 14:07.8; 4. Kleve (M) 14:09.2; 5. Fischer (M) 14:09.3; 6. Cunningham (M) 14:09.3, 7. Koskei (WSU) 14:17.5; 8. Lutzow (M) 14:25.7; 9. Collins (KSU) 14:26.1; 10. Wren (KSU) 14:27.0
Team scores — 1. Wichita State 27, 2. Missouri 42, 3. Kansas State 87, 4. Emporia State 114, 5. Butler County 124, 6. Newman 165, 7. Southwestern 200, 8. Friends 229
Individuals — 1. Harter (WSU 18:21.3); 2. Wickoren (un) 18:26..4; 3. Newkirk (ESU) 18:35.9; 4. Penrod (WSU) 18:41; 5. Garcia (WSU) 18:47.3; 6. Dubrick (M) 18:49.1; 7. George (M) 18:53.9; 8. Widmann (M) 18:54.1; 9. Loquercio (M) 18:56.5; 10. Carson (WSU) 19:00