Shocker cross country to kickoff first all-team event this weekend

Evan Pflugradt

The Wichita State cross country team will compete in its first full-team event of the season at the 27th annual Chile Pepper Invitational hosted by the University of Arkansas this weekend.

The event is one of the largest the Shockers will compete in this season with more than 80 teams expected to participate.

“We run better as a pack,” redshirt sophomore Lycia Hollon said. “Seeing one another in the race helps pulls us along.”

The Chile Pepper hosts nationally recognized teams, and redshirt junior Brady Johnson said the competition will increase the Shockers’ competitiveness.

“When the competition is better we always tend to have better race times,” Johnson said. “It raises the bar for where we push ourselves.”

Head coach Kirk Hunter said the Chile Pepper is the first opportunity for him to see his team compete as a whole. The contest also helps Hunter select which runners will compete on the traveling teams.

In large events such as the Chile Pepper, the team relies on veteran runners’ experience to help guide the way for younger runners.

Hollon said cross country is different than other team sport because the athletes do not talk to one another during the race.

“Even though we are all trying to increase our individual times, we look to our teammates running and we hope to edge the gap between us,” she said.

Hollon said seeing another teammate ahead of her encourages her to run faster.

 “The girl’s team is really young, and there is a lot we can learn from competing in this event,” junior Sidney Hirsch said.

Hirsch finished highest for the Shockers overall in last year’s race. She finished 17th in her sophomore season with a time of 16:57.2. Kayla Deighan (33), Lycia Hollon (36), and Emilea Finley (37) joined Hirsch by finishing in the top 40.

Among the veterans is a new face leading the pack.

Freshman Rebekah Topham started the season strong. She took first in her first two collegiate meets. In the first two weeks of the season, Topham was named Missouri Valley Conference Female Cross Country Athlete of the week.

A freshman from Griswold, Iowa, Topham came to WSU as a four-time high school Iowa 1A State Champion.

“The pinnacle of my high school career was winning state for the fourth year in a row,” Topham said. “That had never been achieved before in the state of Iowa.”

The women’s team finished fourth overall in the university division last year with an average time of 17:19.16 for the 8K run.

Junior Ugis Jocis was top finisher for the men’s team last season. He placed 19th in his sophomore season with a time of 24:52.6.

Jocis said the competition at the Chile Pepper inspires him, and he is excited for the team to finally compete together.

“Aside from individual goals, I always like to challenge my teammates to really push ourselves against conference teams,” Jocis said.

The men finished fifth last year as a team in the university division with an average time of 25:02.92.

The men will run the 8K at 9:45 a.m. and the women will run the 5K at 10:20 a.m. Saturday.