WICHITA — The 2019 Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) Cross Country Championships is set for Saturday. Friends University is the host with the meet on the Wichita State University cross country course (4 Mile Creek Resort, formerly RAFT Golf Course) located south of Augusta

The men’s 8-kilometer race will begin at 10:15 with the women’s 5-kilometer race scheduled to follow at 11:15. A formal presentation of awards will take place at approximately noon, near the finish line.

In addition to determining the 2019 KCAC Champions, the meet will also be the qualifying meet for the NAIA National Cross-Country Championships. The team winner of both the women’s and men’s team races will automatically qualify for the 40th Annual Women’s and 64rd Annual Men’s NAIA National Cross-Country Championships, Nov. 22, on the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Cross-Country Course at Vancouver, Washington.

For conferences with more than 12 scoring schools (five to seven runners), two automatic team berths are given if the second team is rated in the top 30 of the NAIA National cross country poll. If less than 12 teams score (five or more finishing runners), the KCAC would get only one automatic team qualify to the national championships.

In addition to the qualifying team(s), the top six individual finishers (or 4, if less than 12 teams score) who finish in the KCAC’s top 20 (top 15, if less than 12 teams score) not on a qualifying team will also qualify for the NAIA National meet.

 

Women’s Preview

 

The University of Saint Mary women left North Newton a year ago with its third straight KCAC individual winner and its third team title in the past five years while turning back Southwestern College for the 2018 KCAC Cross Country Championships. Southwestern placed two ladies in the top 10 and four in the top 18, good enough for the Moundbuilders second straight runner-up finish, as Southwestern edged Friends for second in the team race.

Friends University will come in as the 2019 favorite for the team crown. Currently receiving votes in the latest NAIA National poll, the Falcons want to return the team title to Wichita for their first KCAC title since winning back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016. Also receiving votes in the national poll, the No. 37 Spires appear to be the most likely challenger to the meet host Falcons for the team championship and a team berth in the NAIA National Championships based on season bests by each team’s individual runners.

Leading returning medalists from 2019 is Brittany White-Dold (U of St Mary, SR), who finished third a year ago and leads a group of three ladies who placed in last year’s top 10. Joining White-Dold in last year’s KCAC top 10 were Emily Kemling (Tabor, SR, 9th) and Penny Fenn (Avila, SR, 10th). Seven others, including three Falcons, from last season’s top 20 could also return including Tenka Stringer (Avila, SO, 11th), Breanna Clayton (Ottawa, JR, 13th), Maria Geesaman (York, SO, 14th), Nicole Ballard (Friends, JR, 15th), Kara Zahariades (Friends, JR, 16th), Stephanie Martinez (Kansas Wesleyan, SO, 17th) and Miranda Tenove (Friends, SR, 20th).

 

Men’s Preview

 

The University of Saint Mary men placed eight runners in the top 12 finishers of the 2018 KCAC Championships as the Spires ran away with their sixth straight conference team title as well as garnered their sixth straight individual title. Nothing appears to have changed in the past 12 months as the Spires will enter the 2019 KCAC Championships again as the prohibitive team favorite with Friends set to battle Ottawa and Southwestern for second place in the team race.

Currently ranked No. 3 in the most recent NAIA national poll, the 2019 USM Spires are led by Johnathan Bowen (U of St Mary, JR) who is the top returning KCAC medalist following his third-place finish at the 2018 KCAC Cross-Country Championships.

The Spires followed up their 2018 KCAC team title with a fifth-place team finish at the NAIA National Championships where they were led by 2018 individual KCAC champion Philip Lagemann’s 4th place finish.

The Spires’ streak of six team and individual conference titles rank second only to Southwestern College’s string of 31 team and 26 individual titles under 2018 Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, coach Jim Helmer.

Six of the top 10 and 12 of the men’s top 20 KCAC finishers from 2018 are eligible to toe the start line this fall. Finishing behind Lagemann a year ago were Johnathan Bowen (U of St Mary, JR, 3rd), Luke Skinner (U of St Mary, JR, 4th), Eric Vazquez (U of St Mary, JR, 5th), Brendan Erwin (U of St Mary, JR, 6th), Ian Meek (York, JR, 7th) and Clayton Price (U of St Mary, JR, 10th) from last year’s top 10. Other top 20 finishers were Jacob Rice-Stewart (U of St Mary, SR, 12th), Isaac Sprague (Friends, SR, 13th), Kaeori Giron (Kansas Wesleyan, SO 14th), Nathan Mier (Friends, SO, 16th), Elijah Green (U of St Mary, SR, 19th) and Alan Rangel (Ottawa, SO, 20th).

It appears the battle for the KCAC individual title will be decided between the Spire duo of Bowen and Paul Becker (SR), who have claimed the top two finish positions for USM in each of their 2019 competitions. The pair are the only KCAC men to dip below the 25-minute marks for 8-kilometer distance this season as Bowen’s KCAC leading 24:33.9 coming in the Gold division of the Fort Hays Tiger Open while Becker clocked 24:54.3 at the NAIA Seminole Valley Stampede. Bowen was named the KCAC Runner of Week three times this fall while Becker garnered the award twice. The Spires claim the top five positions on the 2019 KCAC top performance list for the 8-kilometer distance and nine of the top 11, broken up only by KWU’s Giron and Ottawa freshman Josh Weghorst, ranking sixth and seventh.