The recent success of the men's cross country team has set the bar high for the 2007 squad. With two straight top 20 finishes at the NCAA Championships, the men will look toward a number of underclassmen to help the Jayhawks qualify for their third-consecutive NCAA Championship bid.
"I think the team is excited and wants to do it again this year and as coaches we believe that it can happen. In order for it to happen, everyone has to do their job," head coach Stanley Redwine said. "It's never a given, we have to make things happen and that's what we look forward to."
Though Kansas loses two-time Big 12 Champion Benson Chesang, 2006 All-Americans Paul Hefferon and Colby Wissel return for their final seasons in the Jayhawk crimson and blue. Wissel is the defending Big 12 Champion and finished 26th at the NCAA Championships last fall. He was the top finisher for KU in five of the team's seven races in 2006. In the only two meets in which Wissel did not place first, Hefferon came out on top, highlighted by his first collegiate win at the Bob Timmons Invitational in September. Hefferon also had an impressive showing in the Big 12 Championships, finishing fourth.
"When you have two All-Americans returning that's a very good sign of leadership for those guys," Redwine said. "They are leaders both on and off the field, they certainly push the other athletes to do better. They are great guys with great personalities who work great together."
This season, Kansas will also have to defend the individual Big 12 Championship for the third consecutive year. Redwine knows the team is up to the challenge, but is quick to point out that there is much preparation to be done before the conference meet.
"They aren't talking about wanting to win conference, but you know everyone wants to win," Redwine said. "Those guys are so modest about it that they aren't going to talk about who is going to win conference. They are going to work to achieve the highest place they can on that given day."
Hefferon and Wissel will be a consistent force for Kansas, but will need help behind them in order for the Jayhawks to be successful as a team. Senior Patrick McGowan is expected to be a reliable scorer throughout 2007. He is one of four returning letterwinners for KU after two top-10 showings in 2006, including a second-place finish at the Kansas State Wildcat Invitational. McGowan is expected to continue to progress after setting career-best marks in the 5K, 6K and 10K last season.
Also important for the Jayhawks will be returning juniors Victor Chesang and Levi Huseman as well as sophomores Dan Van Orsdel and Bret Imgrund. Transfer Jason Schweitzer, from the University of Tulsa, will try to make an immediate impact in his first season with the Kansas cross country team. The team's success may depend on this group's consistency to score points.
The incoming freshman class could also add instant support to the 2007 squad with 2006 Nebraska Class A state cross country runner-up, Nick Caprario, and two-time regional qualifier and conference champion, Chris Kuhman.