‘It’s history:’ Winny Koskei wins third straight AAC title


Khánh Nguyễn/ The Sunflower

McKenna Paintin, Winny Koskei, and Yazmine Wright pose for picture after the awards ceremony. The American Athletic Conference Cross Country Championships was held at 4 Mile Creek Resort, on Feb 6.

Senior Winny Koskei became the most decorated cross country athlete in the history of the American Athletic Conference on Saturday, becoming the first runner to win three AAC individual titles.

Koskei finished the six-kilometer course in 20:29.24, holding off Tulsa’s Caitlin Kopfler (20:53.89) by just over 24 seconds. Koskei also became the first Shocker to win three individual titles and qualified for the NCAA Championships on March 15 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Cross Country Head Coach Kirk Hunter said that they discussed the chance for Koskei to make history in the week leading up to the race.

“It’s history,” Hunter said. “We’ve been talking about it all week, just Winny and I, nobody else really. Just talking about, ‘hey you got this opportunity’ and now she actually has a chance to win four times in a row next year. So to get three is something else.”

Wichita State hosted the championship in Augusta at their home course of 4 Mile Creek Resort. The meet featured frigid temperatures and snowfall which started just after the men’s race began. The team competed in the JK Gold Classic on Jan. 23 at the same course where Koskei also took home first place. 

With the season’s postponement it made it difficult to scout the rest of the field. Koskei said because of that, she didn’t have a strategy headed into the race, unlike normal meets. 

“I didn’t have any strategy going in,” she said. “I was just going to go and try to stick with the group and see what happens at the end. I was going for three in a row, for sure.”

Hunter said that Koskei’s experience with the course played a factor in deciding when to make a final push. 

“I said, ‘if it doesn’t feel right wait’ and it didn’t feel right, obviously, so she waited. But there’s very few people that are going to be beating Winny up the hills on our course. There’s very few people that can do that. ”

The Kenya native helped led the women’s team to a second-place finish in the event. Yazmine Wright finished in fifth (21:12.30) and McKenna Pantin finished in 13th (22:03.57) with both earning all-conference honors. 

“That was just amazing,” Hunter said. “This team had to basically come back and deal with a lot of doubters and prove, including myself a little. I didn’t know if we could get that in this conference with that group and they decided to do it and put it upon themselves to get it done.”

The athletes gained an extra year of eligibility because of the season’s postponement. Koskei said that she is still leaving the door open for the possibility of returning and winning four straight next year. 

“Why not,” Koskei said.

Only Jed Helker received all-conference for the men’s program, finishing in 14th place with a time of 24:58.30. Helker, who is also a distance runner for the Track and Field program, improved on his 31st place finish from a year ago. He is only the second Shocker to earn all-conference since joining the AAC.

Ben Flowers became the first athlete to earn all-conference last year but was absent this year due to an injury. 

“I don’t consider myself a cross country guy until really right now,” Helker said. “I had a good meet a couple weeks ago and that instilled some confidence in me. I really wanted to get all-conference or top-ten or something. I took that milestone and really went for it.”

The team had two other top-25 finishes Clayton Duchatschek (25:07.69) and Adam Moore (25:08.33) finished in 22nd and 24th respectively. Overall, the men’s program finished fourth-best in the conference. 

“If someone would’ve said Jed, I would’ve said ‘yeah, he has a shot’ but so does Clayton and Adam Ethan (Kossover) and Bryce (Merriman) and Shadrack (Chumba). So for Jed to be the one to do it, that was impressive. The guys are a little disappointed. They wanted second, I was wanting at least top-three and Temple came in and took us out of that spot today. So they had a great race.”