After just two days of practice with the 2017 Kansas cross country team, coach Stanley Redwine stood in front of a packed Allen Fieldhouse media room Wednesday to discuss the upcoming season.
Entering the season, Kansas has just nine returning upperclassmen, with five seniors having graduated last year. The rest of the team is made up of returning sophomores and incoming freshmen.
Despite the lack of older, more experienced runners returning for 2017, Redwine still sees leaders on both the men’s and women’s teams. One of those leaders is junior Sharon Lokedi, who is one of three upperclassmen on the women’s team.
Kansas cross country runner Sharon Lokedi shares her story of fleeing her hometown in Kenya to how she trained to become the runner she is today.
Lokedi finished fifth at the 2016 NCAA Championships as Kansas’ only competitor at the event.
“I think the biggest thing for Sharon is that she's been very successful and created a target on her back,” Redwine said. “What that means is how she handles the pressure of everyone expecting her to do well. She'll do a really good job we believe.”
Redwine also expects Lokedi to be a driving force for Kansas as the women’s athletics department heads into its 50th year of existence.
“I think Sharon wants to do extremely well in everything she does,” Redwine said. “In being one of the most decorated athletes here in the past I don't know how many years, it's really good to have her here.
On the men’s team, Redwine is looking towards brothers Chris and Michael Melgares to the lead the team.
Michael, who will be a junior this year, was Kansas’ highest-placed finisher at the 2016 NCAA Midwest Regional, finishing his 10K run in 31:00.3 to take 32nd place.
His older brother, Chris, who will be a senior in 2017, finished right behind Michael in the same race, with a time of 31:03.1 to claim 35th.
On the technical side, Redwine and his assistant coach, Michael Whittlesey, have been focusing on packing. Packing in cross country is the process of teaming up with runners of similar ability to push each other and keep each other motivated throughout the race.
This technique can often lead to strong finishes for a team.
“We may say, ‘Sharon, you have to pack well with someone else,’ because she's better than some of the other ones,” Redwine said. “The other ones are working well together and creating an atmosphere that they know how to pack well together.”
Although Redwine has talented individuals like Lokedi and the Melgares brothers on his squad, he is also looking forward to seeing his athletes compete as a team.
“We have to make sure that everyone is doing the right things whether it's training together, moving well together at the same time, and being able to put a total team effort together and that's what we're looking forward to,” Redwine said.
The cross country season begins on Sept. 2 when the Jayhawks host the Bob Timmons Dual Classic at Rim Rock Farm.