TULSA, Oklahoma- The Wichita State men’s and women’s cross-country teams compete for the American Athletic Conference Championships Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Guns will be ready for the women’s 6K race at 9:15 am, followed by the men’s 8K race at 10:00 am at Mohawk Park.
head coach Kirk Jaeger‘s Shocker men had the program’s best regular season performance in Hunter’s 12 years at the helm, finishing second as a team at the Bradley Pink Classic with record-breaking school performance Clayton Duchatschek and Ben flowers. The men moved back up to sixth place in the USTFCCCA Midwest Region rankings ahead of the conference meeting.
The Wichita State men are bringing back two of four All-Conference runners from last year’s second-place AAC team Bryce Merriman (12th) and Duchatschek (14th), and Flowers returns to the AAC Cross Country Championships for the first time since his all-conference honors in 2019 (7-7).th) after fighting his way back from a hip injury that sidelined him for two years.
“Having Ben back is incredible,” Hunter said. “Having a guy come back and run under our school record is an incredible person to have back on your team. A tremendous impact.”
The Shockers were forced to fill the all-conference graduating void Adam Moore and transfers Shadrack Chumba and Jed Helker but seem to have found their footing with the Cowley College transfer Adrian Diaz-Lopez and newbie Jacob Meier.
Diaz-Lopez is the reigning NJCAA indoor 3,000 yard champion and has made it straight into the Shockers’ top five in his first two encounters.
“With Adrian [Diaz-Lopez] is important. We didn’t just replace the two [all-conference runners from last year]we’ve improved our team in terms of performance,” said Hunter. “That has led to others on the team stepping up even more and making us a better team overall.”
The Shockers’ team effort two weeks ago included six 8k times within 30 seconds of the previous school record, but Hunter wants all of his men to keep improving.
“We need to redo what we did at Bradley,” Hunter said. “To be fair, six people did most of the work and we have nine people running, so we should really differentiate ourselves from that. We’re going to need everyone who comes in there and is ready to compete at a very high level.”
Wichita State’s biggest competition comes from the state’s No. 7 team, hosts Tulsa.
“Playing against Tulsa is always a challenge,” Hunter said. “They’re an extremely well-trained team and an extremely talented group of athletes. The advantage for us is racing against a team that’s at a super high level. It gives us the perspective of knowing what we’re going to face when we do it.” going to the regional meeting and hopefully on to the NCAA meeting.”
The Golden Hurricane brings back three All-Conference athletes from last year’s championship team, including fastest AAC returnee Micheal Power (4th place).th) and 2021 AAC Freshman of the Year Chris McLeod (7th).
“If we want to be successful, really at the level that we want to be, we have to be able to compete with guys like Tulsa, so that’s a challenge we have to take on,” Hunter said.
If Tulsa goes through with its race, Cincinnati, Tulane, Memphis and Temple will all battle the Shockers for second place.
The Shocker women go into the AAC Championship with a lot less experience than the men. After losing the reigning AAC champion Yazmine Wright and all-conference performer Danielle Rin On the transfer portal, Hunter has been striving for a young team to move up. Five of the nine Shockers who will compete in Tulsa will be making their AAC Championship debuts.
“We’re up against people who have a lot more experience than my group, but that also gives us a lot of opportunities,” Hunter said. “Because we’re inexperienced and because we’ve been learning all year, it gives us the opportunity to come in and surprise people.”
Abbe Sullivan has led the Shockers all season and is returning to the AAC starting line for the first time since 2019 after her son Zion missed that season’s spring championships in early 2021 and her fall 2021 season was cut short due to injury. The women are targeting a top three finish, and Sullivan is attempting to earn her first all-conference honors.
“I know they have the opportunity if they stick their nose in it, they’re not scared and they’re not intimidated to have a very successful meeting and jump up further than they should,” Hunter said. “Hopefully they take that and learn to walk as a team like the guys do and use that to push themselves to a much better level than we’re currently sitting on.”
The women’s team finished sixth a year ago and needs a full team effort to move up. SMU and Tulsa are the teams to beat, but the majority of AAC teams are fairly even and results may vary depending on each athlete’s performance on race day.
“It depends on whether they’re intimidated or they want to take a shot, and if they take a shot and it works, it could be a fun day,” Hunter said.
Both races will be streamed on ESPN+ and fans can follow @GoShockersTFXC on Twitter.