SE: K-State XC Enters Big 12 Meet with Team-First Mentality

K-State’s cross country teams enter the Big 12 Championship meet on Saturday with different outlooks and experience levels but with the same individual motivations. 

“I would say the goal would be to run hard and really just think about the team first,” said sophomore Emma Wren of the conference meet in Lubbock, Texas. 

“I’m definitely looking more toward helping the team in any way I can,” said Joe Gorthy, a sophomore for the men’s team. “So I’m putting more of my focus toward the team.”

The men placed sixth at the conference meet last season, the program’s highest finish since coming in fifth in 1998, and they look to take another step up the leaderboard this year. 

“That was really exciting. We knew that we were going in the right direction and Coach (Ryun Godfrey) was taking us in the right direction, which reaffirmed our faith in our training,” Gorthy said. “We just have to run as a team and run to the best of our ability.” 

Colton Donahue placed 16th last year at Big 12s, K-State’s highest individual finish for the men since 2004. The junior has continued to lead the Wildcats in every race this season, with one main difference: His teammates have closed the gap.   

“We’ve definitely been working on staying as a pack,” said Donahue, who hopes to crack the top 10 individually on Saturday. “We’ve just been working on running together and making sure our paces are consistent with one another, so when it comes to race time, we can run together and keep that score as low as possible at the end of the race and just try to finish as strong as possible.”

In K-State’s final tune-up before the Big 12 meet, there were only 53 seconds between Donahue and the Wildcats’ seventh finisher. Even better, roughly 36 seconds separated him from their fifth and final scorer, a product of the team’s training focus. 

“At the beginning of the season, Coach really emphasized being able to (run in a) pack because last year Colton was really our front man,” Gorthy said. “Two through five were really back from him. So this year we really emphasized packing it together. We just worked on that in practice and we focused on staying in a pack. It’s worked out pretty well at the meets so far.”

If K-State’s men can replicate that type of pack performance at the conference meet, it should bode well for their hope to improve on their finish from a year ago. 

“We definitely want to be one of the top teams in the Big 12, which we think we can do if we have a good race, especially now that our pack’s coming together,” Gorthy said. “Even our sixth and seventh runners are right there next to us.”

On the women’s side, injuries have sidelined or limited a number of Wildcats this season. Through it all, the group has grown together and learned to push one another.  

“We really try to create this atmosphere that we’re competitive in practice and want to push each other, but it’s in a really positive way,” said Wren. “We’re all working toward the same goal.”

For four of the six K-State women running Saturday, Godfrey said the focus would be to improve on their placements from a year ago. Those returners include Morgan Wedekind (10th last year), Kayla Doll (40th), Wren (61st) and Marija Stambolic (85th). 

“It would be cool to see Morgan break into the top 10, but she could still have a good race and not improve on that,” Godfrey said, adding that he would also like to see Doll have a “breakout race.” 

Doll, like the rest of the Wildcats, will be new to the course in Lubbock, which she said makes setting goals for a time and a placement difficult. 

“I just want to compete,” she said, “and try to chase down as many girls as I can.”

K-State’s other two competitors will be true freshmen Sydney Collins and Paityn Howat, who will be experiencing their first taste of what the Big 12 has to offer. 

“A lot of the freshmen have been stepping up really well,” Doll said. “We’re not really sure what to expect because a lot of them running are really new. It’s going to be good experience for them.”

Wren agreed. 

“Last year really showed me that, ‘Wow, this is the Big 12 and this is what it’s like to be competitive in the Big 12,’” she said. “It definitely set goals for me for the years forward of wanting to be part of that and be a factor in the Big 12.”