In 2008, the University of Kansas men’s and women’s cross country team earned a pair of eighth-place finishes in the Big 12 Championships and eighth- and seventh-place finishes, respectively, in the NCAA Midwest Regionals.
KU track and field placed two athletes in the top 20 at NCAA Championships and sent nine competitors to the USA Junior Outdoor Championships this summer. It was a good year, but not an exceptional year, according to head coach Stanley Redwine.
“We had a lot of young athletes trying to find themselves, and our older runners were trying to learn how to be good leaders,” he said. “You try to have a balanced team. In some areas we did really well, and in others we didn’t do as well due to inexperience. What we’re looking for in the future is for everyone to do well at the same time, and experience will help with that.”
On the cross country team, that experience will come from last year’s standouts Bret Imgrund, who will run as a senior this year, and Donny Wasinger, a returning sophomore who as a freshman consistently led the men’s team last year with a 28th-place finish in the Big 12 Championships and 29th-place finish in the NCAA Midwest Regionals.
“Donny is the perfect example of a great competitor,” Redwine said. “To be successful you have to have people who work hard and want to compete regardless of the situation, and that is what is going to make him a great leader this year.”
On the women’s side, last year’s top runner, Lauren Bonds, will be back for her senior season and is looking to finally earn a trip to the NCAA Cross Country Championships. In 2008, Bonds became only the second women’s runner in Kansas history to earn All-Big 12 honors after a 12th-place finish in the Big 12 Championships. She took 16th in the NCAA Midwest Regionals, just shy of a trip to the NCAA Championships.
“Lauren is just an exceptional athlete,” Redwine said. “She’s very competitive. And she’s a great leader. That’s why she’s our team captain.”
Bonds already began to show signs of senior leadership in the 2009 track season, qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor in the 1,500 meters with a third-place finish in the Big 12 and a fifth-place finish in the NCAA Midwest Regionals and setting school records in both the mile and the 1,000 meters during the indoor track season.
Other track standouts to watch will be senior Jordan Scott, who has earned his place among KU’s all-time greatest pole vaulters. Scott earned his second All-American honors last year with a third-place finish in the NCAA Indoor and the title of Big 12 Indoor champion for the third year in a row. Scott also took 16th this summer in the men’s pole vault at the USA senior outdoor championships. Scott red-shirted during the 2009 outdoor season, but expect to see him back in a big way this year.
On the hurdles, sophomore Keith Hayes will be looking to build on his impressive freshman season. Hayes gave KU a much-needed boost last year in the outdoor season, turning in a 16th-place finish at the NCAA and a fourth-place finish in the USA Junior Outdoor this summer.
“Keith had an exceptional year at the end of the year,” Redwine said. “He didn’t do as well at the Big 12 meet as we would have liked, but he did really well at the NCAA Tournament and in the USA Championships this summer. With that experience, I think he’ll be ready to compete and be a team leader.”
Redwine also will be looking to his new recruiting class to help step up the level of performance.
“We have a great recruiting class who I think can come in and make an immediate impact in all areas, men’s and women’s, track and cross country,” he said. “All of our recruits were in the top two or three at their state meets. Some of them are the nation’s best. I think they’re really going to help our team.”
Redwine will specifically use new recruits in the jumping and throwing events where he will be looking to add depth and to make up for the losses of graduated seniors.
“Last year in jumping, we didn’t have a lot of depth,” he said. “But now we’ve got the best jumper in the nation coming in, and I think she will have an immediate impact. In the weight throw, Zlata Tarasova and Stephanie Horton (both graduated seniors) were great assets to the team and they will be missed. But we’ve recruited people who we think can step in.”
The Big 12 will be as competitive as ever this year, but with the returning veterans and an impressive recruiting class, KU is in a position to hold a strong presence in the competition.
“We have very competitive goals,” Redwine said. “We have the mind-set of whatever it takes to get the job done not to be in the bottom of the Big 12 and not to be in the bottom of the NCAA.”