SE: K-State XC Teams Begin Season with Varied Levels of Experience

K-State’s cross country teams enter the 2016 season in much different positions. The men bring in an experienced core while the women boast a youthful squad led by a proven veteran. 

The entire men’s roster returns from last year’s sixth-place finish at the Big 12 Championship, the best finish team-wise since 1998. Four seniors and four juniors bolster bigger expectations for this season, which begins Friday at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the Augustana Twilight meet. 

“I think each season just builds on each other. You continue to put in consistent effort and you get better each season. You kind of get more comfortable with racing and understanding how to race, what your strengths are and what you can do,” said Jeff Bachman, part of the senior class with his twin brother Brett Bachman, Kain Ellis and Blake Goodin. “You also get more responsibility as a leader on the team and bringing along the younger guys.” 

Junior Colton Donahue will also help in that regard after finishing 16th in the conference meet last year, one spot away from earning All-Big 12 honors. Donahue’s performance gave his teammates something to strive for this season. 

“That’s what competition is about because you see your teammate do something and then you’re like, ‘If he can do it, then I should be able to do it,’” said K-State head coach Ryun Godfrey said. “That’s the whole premise behind good competition. They’re pushing each other.”

Lukas Koch, also a junior, said Donahue’s Big 12 performance certainly opened his eyes to what he could accomplish. 

“I think medaling in Big 12s is something to strive for,” said Koch, who will be joined in the large returning group of runners by juniors Bryan Zack, Sam Oxandale and sophomore Joe Gorthy. 

Team-wise, Koch said the key will be avoiding injuries and peaking at the right time. 

“If you blow up in the middle of cross country season, then you’re not setting yourself up for any success down the road,” he said. “It’s just one step at a time.”

On the women’s side, senior Morgan Wedekind highlights a young group, which holds 10 underclassmen and consists of seven freshmen. 

“My role as an upperclassman right now is to just encourage them and then also help teach them what it looks like to be training at a high level,” Wedekind said, adding that the overall transition from high school to college can be tough for runners. “A lot of times it can take a freshman a little longer to click with their body, but I do see a lot of potential in our freshmen.”

Another experienced runner will be junior Kayla Doll, the Wildcats’ second-highest finisher (40th) last year at the Big 12 Championship. Sophomores Amanda Thate and Emma Wren, along with senior Marija Stambolic, also return with experience for K-State.

For most of the Wildcats, however, this will be their first collegiate season, which is where Wedekind will step in. Her message to the newcomers, she said, will be simple: listen to Godfrey, put in the work and learn the ins and outs of Division I cross country. 

“Understand that this is the next level and there are a lot of good people, so being good for them is not going to be as easy as it was before. I would just motivate them with that, kind of tough love,” Wedekind said. “You’re not where you need to be now, but you have potential to be good. They really have to decide for themselves if they want to be good.”

Wedekind decided this long ago and it has shown with the progression she’s made throughout her K-State career.  She finished 35th at the conference meet as a freshman and 20th her sophomore season before breaking through with a 10th-place finish at the Big 12 Championship last year in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  

“I’m really excited to get to race again,” said Wedekind, who finished 23rd at the Midwest Regional Championship as a junior to earn a spot on the All-Midwest Region team for the second year in a row. “I just want to go out and do my best. I would like to score again in the Big 12 and to end on a good year. That’s basically it. Try my hardest and see what happens from there.”