Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State track team excited to face in-state rivals at Ahearn Field House

On Wednesday during practice, Wichita State track and field coaches brain-stormed names for their triangular with Kansas and Kansas State.

Sunflower Showdown? Seems taken. Kansas DI Track and Field Meet? Too wordy. Jayhawk State Triangular? Obvious issues.

No matter. The modestly named WSU-KU-KSU Triangular, or KSU-KU-WSU Triangular, depending on which school is writing the schedule, takes place Saturday at Kansas State’s Ahearn Field House. WSU coach Steve Rainbolt considers the scored meet a landmark and a great way to juice up the early days of indoor track.

“I really think it’s going to be a neat experience for our athletes,” he said. “I hope it turns into something the athletes at all three schools really look forward to.”

Each will bring a roster of 26 athletes to compete in 16 events. Men’s and women’s teams scores are combined to determine the winner of a traveling trophy. Kansas and Kansas State competed against Missouri in an indoor triangular for 17 seasons before the event ended in 2006. This recreation of that event is scheduled for three years, next season at Kansas and at WSU in 2017 before coaches will decide on the future.

“I have thought about this and hoped for his ever since I came to Wichita State,” Rainbolt said.

Competition begins at 11 a.m. The Wildcats, according to the coaches association rankings, are No. 12 nationally in the preason rankings with Kansas No. 72 and WSU No. 84. On the men’s side, Kansas State is ranked No. 68, followed by No. 100 Kansas and No. 112 WSU.

WSU opened the season last week. Saturday’s meet, however, is the real kickoff with high stakes and team scores. The fact athletes competed to make the 26-person squad added urgency to their training. With a trophy and state pride at stake, this shouldn’t be a meet where athletes are solely concerned with individual performances.

“We’re bringing a smaller crew, so if you see a lot of pressure from your teammates, they’re all counting on you and you want to represent Wichita State the best you can,” said junior Jenny Pinkston, who will run the 400 and compete in the long jump. “These are Big 12 schools, so it’s obviously going to be … good competition.”

Rainbolt’s goal each season is to win the Missouri Valley Conference meets. Building a team atmosphere in an individual sport is a trademark of his programs. Saturday’s meet will help prepare the Shockers for the MVC indoor championships in February. In those meets, athletes are expected to follow other events and sacrifice individual goals to pile up points, even if that means adding events to their schedule.

“Everyone is checking the score on their phone, or every time (scores) get put up on the wall,” WSU senior pole vaulter Ethan Pearson said. “You can tell, there’s people going to every event, getting claps going, getting cheers going. That makes a huge difference, for myself, I know, when I have people cheering for me.”

Saturday’s meet will be part competition, part reunion. Many of the Kansas athletes will see familiar faces from around the state, perhaps recreating a duel from the state high school meet at Cessna Stadium.

“It’s good to have that competition, and it’s about the only sport where we get Wichita State, KU and K-State to all play each other,” Pearson said. “I’d like to see it in basketball, but we’ll take it in track.”

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.