Wichita State will win the Missouri Valley Conference All-Sports Trophy with a record nine conference titles. Track and field contributed three of those titles, in addition to a third and two seconds.
It is, in track and field coach Steve Rainbolt’s figures, the best season in his 16 at WSU. When the Valley announces the All-Sports Trophy on Monday, fans can look back on the track and field recruiting class that signed on in 2011-12 as the group of around 50 athletes that helped the Shockers set a record.
“For some reason, we kind of went crazy and had a wildly successful recruiting year,” Rainbolt said. “It was an anomaly. One really fabulous recruting class.”
WSU had scholarship money to give that year and it funded some great finds, both with stars and depth. Those athletes are current redshirt juniors or seniors and they helped WSU sweep the men’s and women’s outdoor MVC titles for the second time in school history. WSU also won the MVC men’s indoor title for the first time since 2010, the last time the men won the indoor and outdoor titles.
The women’s class included future All-Americans Nikki and Taylor Larch-Miller, twins from California, Missouri Valley Conference pentathlon and heptathlon champion Breanne Borman and three-time MVC high jump champion Ashley Petersen. The men’s class included MVC triple jump champion Shazz Michael Lindo, Weston Cottrell, school record-holder in the hammer throw, WSU 5,000-meter record-holder Brady Johnson and MVC heptathlon champion Kyle Troxler.
“It was a big group with a bunch of good athletes that I knew could develop,” Rainbolt said. “In the fall (of 2012), we were talking about how ‘This is a remarkable crew.’”
9 MVC titles won by Wichita State in 2015-16
8MVC titles won by Wichita State in 2013-14
7MVC titles won by Wichita State in 2005-06 and 2009-10
6 MVC titles won by Wichita State in 2014-15
That big recruiting class, some of which came as walk-ons, helped WSU use some of its inherent edges in MVC track. It can overwhelm the private schools with depth — all 32 men who went to the MVC meet scored. It scores big in the javelin, an event that Kansas high schools offer that most states do not. It dominates the multi-events because Rainbolt specializes in those events. Shockers grabbed the top five spots in the decathlon and five of the top six in the heptathlon in MVC outdoor meet.
“When you look at the nooks and crannies of track and field… the decathlon and heptathlon, we obliterated them,” Rainbolt said. “We went almost unopposed.”
So with track and field providing the push over the top, WSU will win the MVC All-Sports Trophy for a fourth straight season and fifth in the last six. It will pass the 2013-14 Shockers, who won eight MVC titles, for the most in one school year.
Hat in the bag — Shockers softball players carried yellow hard hats with them to practices in the fall and games in the spring to demonstrate their devotion to acting as good teammates. The theme comes from reading the Jon Gordon book “The Hard Hat.”
In the Norman Regional, those hard hats stayed hidden in their equipment bags.
The NCAA is banning the dugout props, such as sombreros, Cat in Hat hats and Iron Man masks, that grew into part of the show in recent years. Teams were told in their post-season instructions that the NCAA will enforce existing rules prohibiting props in the dugout.
“We want to be a respected sport, a sport just like anything else,” WSU coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “But I do want our girls to have fun, too. So I think it’s finding a balance. We had to keep an eye on our helmets in our bag instead of looking up and seeing them in our dugout.”
On volleyball’s bench — WSU added Julie Allen as its volunteer assistant volleyball coach. She replaces Donnie Wallace, who was promoted to full-time assistant in April.
Allen played high school and club volleyball for coach Chris Lamb in California. She comes to WSU after serving as assistant coach at Texas-El Paso for six seasons. She also coached at Arkansas State, Georgetown and Chico State. She played setter at the University of Portland.
Worth noting — WSU shortstop Trey Vickers is one of 42 players on the list for the Gregg Olson Award for college baseball’s breakout player of the year. Vickers, a sophomore, is hitting .318, up from .252 in 2015. … WSU softball players Cacy Williams and Brittany Fortner earned spots on the MVC Scholar-Athlete team. Katie Malone and Macklin Hitz were named honorable mention. … Wichita State women’s basketball camps begin June 13 and include skill development camps, team camps and college prep and junior elite camps. For more info, go to shockersbasketballcamps.com.