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Sophomore Sharon Lokedi leads a pack of runners at the Rim Rock Classic in Lawrence on Oct. 1.

With the 2018 track and field season in the rear view mirror, attention turns to the 2018 cross country season in the fall. The Kansas cross country team has built up experience over the past couple of seasons, and will hoping that it will pay off from a team perspective this coming season.

On the men’s side, building up experience and leadership has been the main goal. Last season, then-junior Michael Melgares led the Jayhawks throughout the season, being the first Kansas runner across the finish line at three meets last season (Rim Rock Classic, Pre-National Invite, NCAA Midwest Regional).

The Manhattan native has been known to drop quality times over the years, such as his career-best marks last year in the 8,000 meter (24:34.5) at Pre-Nationals and the 10,000 meter (30:11.1) at the NCAA Midwest Regional.

Now as a senior, alongside his brother Chris Melgares who redshirted in 2017, Michael hopes to finally take the Jayhawks to the promised land - the NCAA Championships.

However, the Jayhawks will have to make serious strides as a team for this to happen. After strong showings to start the 2017 campaign at the Bob Timmons and Rim Rock Classics, the men’s team only managed a 40th place finish at the Pre-National Invite. They followed that performance with a 7th place finish at the Big 12 Championship and an 18th place finish at the NCAA Midwest Regional.

That simply won’t get the job done.

There will have to be help from the supporting cast, such as senior Jack McDonald, junior Avery Hale and redshirt junior Dylan Hodgson. Also, look out for younger talent such as redshirt freshman John Luder and sophomore Jack Young to possibly make noise this season.

This team will need to continue to grow, but Michael and Chris Melgares are the leaders of this team and should be ready to take the next step to propel Kansas to its full potential.

It will feel like a tall mountain to climb, but this team is poised to make a deep run into November if they race aggressive and smart.

On the women’s side, there is a full-fledged superstar in senior Sharon Lokedi. To put it bluntly, she’s one of the best runners in the nation.

Lokedi was the lone Jayhawk to race at the NCAA Championships last fall, finishing 44th with a time of 20:15.14. Other notable performances from last year include finishing runner-up at the NCAA Midwest Regional (20:12) and an eighth-place finish at the Pre-National Invite (20:00.9).

Oh, and she also became the fourth female runner to win back-to-back Big 12 championships. I would say she’s well established.

The team as a whole had a solid 2017 campaign, securing a 29th place finish at the Pre-National Invite, a 6th place finish at the Big 12 Championship and a 10th place finish at the NCAA Midwest Regional.

There is also promising talent alongside Lokedi, including senior Alaina Schroeder - who was named 2017 All-Region and All-Big 12 - junior Riley Cooney and redshirt junior Lauren Harrell. Aside from Lokedi, Schroeder will have the best chance at qualifying for nationals in the fall.

Lokedi and Schroeder will be the leaders on the team, hoping to continue racking up personal accomplishments as well as developing this young women’s team.

Overall, both the men’s and women’s cross country teams hope to take the next step into competing on a national stage. Don’t be surprised if more Jayhawks make it to the NCAA Championships at the end of the year.