Kansas Vying for Ticket to Nationals at Midwest Regionals
LAWRENCE, Kan. — After a two week layoff, the Kansas cross country teams will compete in their most important meet of the season on Friday, Nov. 9 at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships in Springfield, Mo. The nationally-ranked men’s team will look to return to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2006, while the women, who last qualified for nationals in 1994, will try to better last year’s ninth-place finish.
â€œThe last three meets have been high pressure meets so this one won’t be anything new for us,â€ said assistant cross country coach Michael Whittlesey. â€œThey’ve been competing really well in every single meet because they knew what they needed to do and how they needed to achieve it. This weekend it’s all about being in the right position and ready to compete.â€
Senior Donny Wasinger, who will run in his fourth Regional meet as a Jayhawk, will look to lead the 29th-ranked men’s team to their first NCAA Championship qualification in six seasons. Wasinger will be joined by a pair of experienced upperclassmen, senior Josh Baden and junior Josh Munsch, who will head up a seven-man team that will feature four underclassmen on Friday.
Sophomores Evan Landes, James Wilson and Reid Buchanan have each been among the Jayhawks’ top three finishers in at least two races this year and will be competing in their second Regional meet this weekend. Freshman Gabe Gonzalez, who has been a consistent finisher in the top of the men’s pack, rounds out KU’s squad in Springfield.
â€œWe have some great leaders in this race,â€ said Whittlesey. â€œOur older guys have been through this race two or three times. Everyone except for Gabe (Gonzalez) has been through this race at least once so they know what they need to do because they’ve been in this environment before.â€
In addition to the youthful look of the men’s team, the group will also be competing at the 10K distance for the first time this year, which is quite a change after running 8K races for the majority of the year. Despite the longer distance, the KU coaches are confident the men’s runners are prepared to handle it.
â€œOur training all season has been geared towards the 10K,â€ explained Whittlesey. â€œWe have some guys that are better at the 10K so they’re licking their chops and excited about the extra distance. Really, if we just stay focused on the competitive side of things, the longer distance shouldn’t be too much of a factor.â€
The KU women also send an experienced group to the Midwest Regional as three of those running this weekend’s race have competed in two or more Regional meets. Senior Kyra Kilwein has been the women’s leader in three meets this year and will try to garner all-region honors for the first time in her KU career. She will be joined by seniors Kathleen Thompson and Tessa Turcotte, who each finished inside the women’s top four in their most recent two races.
â€œOn the women’s side I think we have a few athletes that could get all-region,â€ said Whittlesey. â€œKyra (Kilwein) has been our top runner for the majority of the season. Kathleen (Thompson) led us up in Wisconsin. Hannah (Richardson) has a really decent shot to finish high up there and Natalie Becker has been looking a lot better and a little more comfortable in what she’s been doing lately.â€
The junior, Becker, joined the team in the middle of the season after recovering from injury and has been a key piece in rounding out a strong women’s top-five. If she and the freshman-standout, Richardson, notch top-40 finishes overall, the Jayhawks will have an opportunity to grab one of the coveted at-large bids for the NCAA Championships.
Senior Devin Wiegers and sophomore Liza Tauscher complete the women’s line-up. Both runners put together strong runs at the Big 12 Championships two weeks ago and could be peaking at the right time of the season.
Thirty-one teams earn berths to the NCAA Championships, which will be run in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday, Nov. 17. The top two teams from each of the nine regions automatically qualify for the Championships. Another 13 at-large teams will be added to the field and announced on Saturday, Nov. 10. In addition, four individual competitors from each region, who are not part of qualifying teams, will also earn their way into the Championships field. These individuals must finish in the top 25 at the regional championship to qualify. Additionally, the NCAA committee will choose two individuals at large.
â€œThe guys have worked extremely hard all year but they’ve got to go earn it on Friday once again,â€ concluded Whittlesey. â€œ(Advancing to Nationals) would bring us back to where we were several years ago and back with the great tradition of this program. I don’t want to say they’ve earned the right because we still have to take care of business in Springfield, but they’re as deserving as any other team out there.â€
The meet, hosted by Missouri State University and will be held at MSU Cross Country Course. The women’s race will begin at noon with the men getting underway at 1:15 p.m. A recap and complete results will be available following the races on KUAthletics.com with live updates throughout the day available on twitter at KU_Track.
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