Jayhawks Equipped to Compete at Big 12 Cross Country Championships
LAWRENCE, Kan. â€“ The University of Kansas men’s and women’s cross country teams will head south this weekend for the Big 12 Championships held in Austin, Texas on Saturday, Oct. 27. The meet will be held at the Jimmy Clay Golf Course and will feature five nationally-ranked teams on the men’s side and three ranked teams in the women’s race.
â€œWe need to be at the top of our game across the board this weekend,â€ said fourth-year assistant cross country coach Michael Whittlesey. â€œWhen you’re going up against teams of this caliber you need to be on top of your game from the gun to the finish line. If we do that then we will give ourselves a great chance.â€
The KU men enter the conference meet ranked in the top-30 nationally for the first time since 2006, checking in at No. 30 in the most recent USTFCCCA polls. While the squad is heading into the weekend running at a level not seen in quite some time in Lawrence, this year’s men’s race promises to be one of the most competitive in the league’s history. Five of the 10 teams competing in the men’s 8K race find themselves among the top ranked teams in the nation, with three of those groups (Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas) making up three of the top seven-ranked teams in the country. Despite the heavy competition, the KU coaches feel confident the Jayhawks can run with these top teams.
â€œThe men feel very good about where they’re at,â€ explained Whittlesey. â€œNow it’s just about execution. We’ll need to be smart in order to put ourselves in a great position and be competitive during the later stages of the race. If we do that and if they make mistakes, we need to be capitalizing on those mistakes.â€
Seniors Donny Wasinger and Josh Baden are the most experienced in conference action as both have run in three league meets. Wasinger has been the top KU finisher in each of his first three years of eligibility and will try to become the first Jayhawk in the program’s storied history to be the top men’s finisher in all of his four seasons in Lawrence. The men’s pack has been competitive this year with three different Jayhawks leading the group in as many races. They will need to capitalize on that same tight lead pack if they want to be successful this weekend in Austin. Sophomores Reid Buchanan and James Wilson as well as freshman Gabe Gonzalez have all been consistent front runners for KU this season and promise to turn out more top finishes Saturday.
While the women’s group hasn’t earned quite as much national recognition, the group has improved by leaps and bounds since the start of the 2012 campaign. With veterans Tessa Turcotte, Kyra Kilwein and Kathleen Thompson leading the way, the Kansas coaches are confident the women’s squad could surprise in Austin.
â€œThe women’s squad has really come together over the last three weeks,â€ said Whittlesey. â€œGetting Natalie Becker back into the swing of things has certainly helped. Kathleen Thompson has found some confidence over the last year and has been doing a great job for us. Kyra (Kilwein) has been extremely consistent and then you have Tessa Turcotte who is our top returner from last year’s conference meet. It really comes down to running as a strong front five. If we can close that gap in our front five to 20-25 seconds then we have a great chance to do well this weekend.â€
Joining the seniors in action Saturday will be the junior, Becker, sophomore Liza Tauscher and freshman Hannah Richardson and Hayley Francis, all of whom are capable of earning top-25 finishes.
This year’s Big 12 Championships will have a different feel as West Virginia and TCU will be competing for the first time. The runners and coaches will also need to adapt to Texas’ home course, which hasn’t seen the conference meet since 2003.
â€œOur message will to stay on point to the race plan,â€ concluded Whittlesey. â€œThe excitement will be high, the nerves will be flowing but the team that stays the calmest through all that and executes their plan from start to finish is the team that will do the best.â€
The Jayhawks will travel to Springfield, Mo., for the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships hosted by Missouri State on Friday, Nov. 9. The women’s 6k will kick the day off at noon with the men’s 10k slated to start at 1:15 p.m.
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