KU Cross Country Ready for Tough Test at Pre-Nationals
LAWRENCE, Kan. – After strong outings in their first two meets of the year, the Kansas cross country teams will travel to Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday, Oct. 17 to compete at the 2015 Pre-Nationals Invitational. The Jayhawks will face their largest field and toughest competition thus far in the season as 158 teams, including 12 of the nation’s top-30 teams on the men’s side and eight top-30 teams on the women’s side, are scheduled to compete at E.P. ‘Tom’ Sawyer State Park, site of the NCAA Championship meet to be held in mid-November.
“We’re looking for a great team race from both groups this weekend,” said assistant cross country coach Michael Whittlesey. “Both teams have a couple of runners that could go out and get some low points for us and our next three to five runners will need to really fill in as a pack and close the gap to those front two runners.”
The men’s race is sure to be a competitive one with 11 top-30 teams slated to compete, including No. 1-ranked Colorado and No. 2-ranked Oregon. The race will give the Jayhawks a good litmus test as to where they stand midway through this 2015 campaign, especially as Kansas will face almost all the teams they will see in the meets leading up to the NCAA Championships.
The Jayhawk men’s team will be led by senior Evan Landes, who paced the team with his first-place finish two weeks ago at the Rim Rock Classic, claiming his first collegiate individual title. Others expected to join Landes at the top of the men’s pack are senior Jacob Morgan , sophomore Chris Melgares and freshman Dylan Hodgson.
“Jacob had a slow start to his season due to an illness later in the summer but he’s really coming on now and closing the gap to Evan,” Whittlesey said. “Chris Melgares is also starting to look a lot more like himself, so we’re excited about where the men’s team is at right now.”
Other runners hoping to score for the KU men’s team will be juniors James Hampton, Daniel Koech and Jacob Ryan, sophomore Ben Burchstead and freshman Michael Melgares.
The KU women’s team is expected to be led by sophomore Lydia Saggau and freshman Sharon Lokedi, each of whom have already picked up individual victories in the Jayhawks’ first two meets of the season. The women’s team’s success, however, will be dependent on the collective pack which will include an experienced and tested group.
“We expect Lydia and Sharon to work together and be up at the front this weekend,” Whittlesey said. “It will be a great competition and a great field. I thought Sharon held back a little bit (in her winning race at the Rim Rock Classic) so I’m going to be excited to see how she responds to some really good competition and how she reacts. Her fitness is tremendous right now and I think her confidence is really high.”
The Jayhawks are expected to suite up seven upperclassmen in Louisville Saturday. Juniors Nashia and Malika Baker have each posted finishes among the top-five of the KU women’s pack already this season, while junior Courtney Coppinger has been among the Jayhawks’ top-three finishers twice this year. Juniors Rachel Simon and Kelli McKenna and sophomore Alaina Schroeder have also posted impressive times in their early outings this season. Those six, along with Saggau and Lokedi, could prove to be a potent lineup that could content with several of the top teams in the nation.
Other women to watch at the course at E.P. ‘Tom’ Sayer State Park will be junior Jennifer Angles and sophomores Grace Morgan and Hannah Dimmick.
“We definitely have a much more mature team this year,” Whittlesey said. “We have some people that will be seeing this race for the first time but they’re great competitors. With the maturation of the teams over the last couple years, it should really be beneficial this weekend and moving forward.”
There will be six races as part of the festivities at the Pre-National Invitational, all beginning with the men’s 8k ‘red’ race at 8:30 a.m. (CT), and followed by the women’s 6K ‘red’ race at 9:15 a.m. The men’s and women’s ‘black’ races will kick off at 9:45 a.m. (CT) and 10:30 a.m., respectively. The men’s and women’s ‘open’ races will close out at the day at 11 a.m. (CT) and 11:45 a.m. (CT). Log on to KUAthletics.com for complete results and a recap of the day’s events.
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