The majority of the Wichita State women’s cross country team that won last year’s American Athletic Conference championship is back, but they’ll have to take a different route to the conference title this season.
When the Shockers open their season on Saturday morning at the JK Gold Classic, WSU coach Kirk Hunter still expects the Shockers to be the best again.
“It put a target on our back,” Hunter said about last year’s surprise title. “Last year nobody looked at us, even at the conference race I don’t think anyone called out our name. We weren’t picked for anything. Now they’re aware of us and they’ll be paying attention to us.”
Wichita State has the best 1-2 combination in the conference with senior Rebekah Topham, who has won the JK Gold Classic a record four times, and junior Winnie Koskei, who won the individual title at the AAC meet and then earned All-American status.
Topham is motivated to join Koskei as an All-American this season. That push starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the RAFT course, 13218 SW Tawakoni Rd. in Augusta. Admission is $5.
“I’m just going to do my best and whatever happens happens,” Topham said. “We have pretty much everybody back, so that gives us some confidence. But we know the other (AAC) teams might have better teams this year, so we’re going to do our best and see what happens.”
While the rest of the conference knows about Topham and Koskei, Hunter says they don’t know about the runners behind them.
Abeba Sullivan, a four-time NJCAA All-American at Iowa Central, is expected to make an immediate impact for the Shockers, while junior Yazmine Wright, a Hutchinson native, is looking stronger than ever, according to Hunter. Junior Rita Schnacker and sophomore Halle Johnson, a Bennington native, also return from last year’s lineup, while Danielle Rinn has impressed Hunter after a redshirt year.
The men’s team also returns the majority of its team from last season, as six of the top seven runners are back led by senior Zack Penrod, junior Clayton Duchatschek and junior Ethan Kossover, a Maize South graduate. Hunter also mentioned newcomers that could help in Adam Moore, a junior, and a pair of redshirt freshmen in Jed Helker and Bryce Merriman.
“We’re going to rely on the pack again, but we want our pack to move up,” Hunter said. “The pack is going to be a big part of it and I think we can win meets and even have a shot at winning conference based on that, but we also need to have a couple breakout stars. We have to have a couple of guys in the top 10 of races at the least and everybody else is going to have to pack right in after them. I think we have that kind of team.”
A home meet on a familiar course is beneficial to the team, according to Penrod.
“It’s going to be super fun,” Penrod said. “It’s nice to get the kinks out and once we’re done with this race, we can definitely know what we have to work on as a team and individually. It’s a great experience for the veterans on the team and the new guys.”
Volleyball drops match to San Jose State
Wichita State lost its opening match at the Cal Poly tournament on Thursday, a four-set defeat to San Jose State, 25-16, 25-18, 14-25, 25-19. WSU (2-2) played Cal Poly (0-3) late Friday evening, then conclude the tournament at 2 p.m. Saturday against North Texas (2-2).
Megan Taflinger is again off to a strong start, as she leads WSU with 36 kills and 2.4 kills per set. Sina Uluave (25 kills, 28 digs), Nicole Anderson (23 kills, 40 digs) and Brylee Kelly (21 kills), all first-year players, have helped provide support on the outside, while Indiana State transfer Damadj Johnson (22 kills, .391 hitting percentage) and Emma Wright (team-high 13 blocks) have been strong in the middle.
Junior transfer McKayla Wuensch (4.8 assists per set) and freshman Kayce Litzau (4.4) have shared the setting duties in a 6-2 system. Senior Kara Bown has elevated her game on the back row as the team’s libero, recording a team-best 43 digs and 2.9 digs per set with perfect serve-receive on the season.
Golf teams open season on Monday
The fall season starts for both of WSU’s golf teams on Monday with two-day tournaments, as the men head to Huntington, West Virginia for the Marshall Invitational and the women travel to Springfield, Missouri for the Payne Stewart Invitational.
WSU’s men’s team will be young in Judd Easterling’s first year as head coach, but the Shockers have talent. Zac Owings returns as WSU’s top golfer after a strong freshman season, while the Shockers add freshman Joe Bultman, who was Kansas’ top prospect last year at Shawnee Mission Northwest. WSU’s lineup will be rounded out by sophomores Dawson Lewis and Grayson Wallace, a former Oklahoma high school state champion, and Hutchinson junior-college transfer Lake Leroux.
Two seniors lead the women’s team, as Michelle Ledermann and Annika Chickering are back for the Shockers. Chiara Arya and Hana Mirnik also return with experience, while WSU adds four freshmen in Mill Valley graduate Sarah Lawson, Mar Vidal, Aufa Rachmadya and Valerie Routzong.
Softball’s dinner and auction set
Wichita State softball will host a dinner and auction on Saturday, October 5 at the Aetna Multi-Purpose Facility. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. with a cocktail hour followed by the dinner, silent auction and conclude with a keynote speaker.
Tickets are $40 and banquet table sponsors (eight tickets) are $250 and can be purchased at GoShockers.com/tickets or by calling the WSU ticket office at (316) 978-3267. Auction items include WSU softball apparel, Jennie Finch-autographed items, a custom WSU glove, as well as “coach of the game” and team trip experiences.