Cross Country previews season at Media Day

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas cross country assistant coach Michael Whittlesey covered a lot of ground during the annual address to the media at fall sport media day Tuesday afternoon. The eight-year man at KU discussed both the men’s and women’s teams’ depth in the upcoming season as well as his programs’ raising their expectations heading into the highly anticipated 2016 campaign.
The Jayhawks begin their season on Sept. 3 when they host the Bob Timmons Duel Classic at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence. The first starting gun is slated to go off at 9 a.m.
Cross Country assistant coach Michael Whittlesey
Opening statement:
“Good afternoon. Thanks for coming. I coach both the men’s and women’s cross country team. I’ll start talking about the women first. The women come back from their first trip to the NCAA Championships in many years. We return pretty much the entire roster from last year. We lost just a couple from graduation, one who was in our top seven. But we also return Hannah Richardson, who was our number one runner her sophomore year and was an NCAA qualifier in the 1,500 (meters).”
 Sophomore Sharon Lokedi met with the media Tuesday to preview her team’s season.On this year’s women’s team and sophomore Sharon Lokedi:
“We have a big roster that’s had NCAA Championship experience. Sharon Lokedi had a great, great year last year both in cross country indoor and outdoor (track). She’s been an All-American all three seasons, so be looking for her to help lead the team. I think what I’m most excited about for this team is the depth and experience that we have coming back. We redshirted all of our freshmen last year so we’re hoping to have them step in and try and push some of our seniors.”
On the team’s experience:
“We have a very experience-laden team with a lot of leadership. Any one of them, of our seniors and returners, could be a captain. It’s that quality of a group that we have. So what I’m really excited about is not only the leadership that they have, but the commitment that they’ve shown this summer and how excited they have been.”
On expectations for this season:
“They’re really motivated to take this program to that next level. (Our goal is) Getting back to nationals, raising our finish at the National Championships last year, raising our finish at the conference meet. We actually have several people who could become individual All-Americans to join with Sharon in that situation. So we’re looking forward to that experience to really lead us back to the NCAA Championships and a much higher finish.”
On the men’s team:
“On the men’s side, we lose to exhaustion of eligibility and graduation our top two runners from last year, both of whom individually qualified for the NCAA Championships. But we return a very young, seasoned group. Several of them scored at the Big 12 Conference meet, some of them got to the NCAA Regional meet last year in track, and a couple of them got very close to getting to the final weekend at the NCAA Championships.”
On the veterans:
“There’s a lot of returners. Chris Melgares and James Hampton are our top two returners from last year. Dylan Hodgson, who bounced back and forth between our top five and top seven last year, was third at the USA Junior Championships in the Steeplechase. He fell within a couple tenths of a second from making it to Poland to help represent the USA; he is returning. Daniel Koech, who is a fifth year senior returns back for his last year of cross country and was in our top five last year. Bryce Richards, who we redshirted last year had a very good outdoor season. He’s done an extreme amount of work this summer; he’s really raised his level of ability to handle the longer work. He was more of an eight [800-meters] and 15 [1500-meters] guy in high school, and now he’s handling extreme longer distance very, very well, so we’re excited for his impact.”
On the freshmen:
“We’ve got freshmen across the board for both men and women that should push us and we’re really excited for what they’re going to bring. Ethan Donley, who’s from Lawrence (Free State) was a state champ both middle-distance wise and in the eight (800 meters) and 15 (1,500 meters) and did a great, great job in the 1,600-meters. Bryce Hoppel out of Midland, Texas, was a 1:49 (personal best 800-meter time), 4:10 1,600-meter guy last year, so we’re looking for the both of those guys to help increase our depth obviously on the track, but really help push our middle-distance guys in cross country this fall.”
On what makes Sharon Lodeki special:
“I’ve worked with a lot of people who have won national titles and gone on to the Olympic Games and the one common thread that they all have, that Sharon has, is she’s a great competitor. When she came here her first semester she wasn’t at the fitness level that we needed her to be at and several times I wanted her to kind of sit a little bit and work her way through the races and her only decision was always, ‘I want to try and win,’ and she would put herself in the front and just work her way fitness-wise by trying to race to the front and beat people. You need that type of competitive drive if you want to be extremely successful.”
On the importance of “team” in cross country:
“In cross country you have to compete as a group. Sometimes that means you’re going to be seventh or eighth and maybe sitting on the outside and not get to race the next meet, not even get to travel to the next meet. But if you’re competing against your teammates for that spot, it doesn’t become a successful season. You have to compete with them and push and drive each other both in practice and in races. There was no selfishness last year and I continue to see that with this team. Their support and encouragement all summer long and obviously all last year with Sharon, they really want to see each one of them have success and it’s never at the expense of somebody else, it’s in support for the program.” The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.