Cross-country is a sport we don’t often have the opportunity to cover here at Bring on the Cats, beyond providing you a quick hit on results in the Slate. But today we have a treat for harrier fans. Ignore the above byline; this piece based on an e-mail interview with K-State cross-country coach Ryun Godfrey is the work of Greg McCune and provided as a special contribution to Bring on the Cats.
The men finished 6th in the Big 12 last year, which was an improvement on the year before. "We hope to build on that momentum in 2016," Godfrey said.
Colton Donahue was one place away from All-Big 12 in 2015. "We hope he can break into the top 15 this year and we hope a couple of our guys can close the gap this year and break into the top 25 (in the Big 12)," he said.
Improving in the Big 12 as a team will be tough, as the league is stacked. Three Big 12 teams finished in the top 31 in the NCAA last year (Oklahoma 15th, Oklahoma State 18th and Texas 31st). Iowa State is much improved and is ranked 29th by FloTrack for 2016. KU also is good.
K-State has experienced returners in Donahue, the Bachman twins Brett and Jeff, as well as Blake Goodin and Lukas Koch, who had a great outdoor track season this year.
The most improved runner on the men's team in the off-season is sophomore Joe Gorthy, according to coach Godfrey.
If the Big 12 is stacked in men's cross country, competition is brutal among women's teams. Oklahoma State is ranked in the top ten nationally, Iowa State is ranked 18th, KU 21st and Texas 29th. West Virginia also had a very good team last year. K-State finished 7th in the league in 2015.
The Wildcats may not have the depth but they do have an All-Big 12 performer returning in Morgan Wedekind, who finished 10th at the league championships. Coach Godfrey says she's back healthy and training well after major struggles in the outdoor track season from a sprained ankle that led to a strained achilles tendon. Just holding her position in the top 10 in the league will be a major undertaking.
Coach Godfrey says sophomore Emma Wren is the most improved on the women's team. She and veteran Kayla Doll should occupy the 2nd and 3rd spots of five. Senior Mary Frances Donnelly is out for the season with health issues, as is prized freshman recruit Erin Lee from York, Nebraska, according to Godfrey.
"Our 4th and 5th runners will have to be freshmen," he said.
While reloading with freshmen might be easy for Bill Self and KU basketball, it’s tough in cross-country. The team only started practices together this week. Under NCAA rules they practice on their own during the summer. Their first cross-country meet is September 2 so they only have two weeks of practice before they compete. And the season is short; it’s all over before Thanksgiving.
Godfrey says K-State's women's team is probably the 8th or 9th best in the Big 12 on paper at this stage. "We will be lucky to be 7th this year in the Big 12," he said.
The good news is that he has a slew of incoming freshmen women and hopefully a couple of them will shine before the season is out.
Greg McCune is a desk editor for the Associated Press in Chicago and teaches journalism at Northwestern University. He's not a sports reporter. Just a Wildcat fan.