LAWRENCE, Kan. – In her first meet of the season, junior Natalie Becker claimed her first-career collegiate victory at the Haskell Invitational Saturday morning. The KU men were also able to put two Jayhawks among the top-13 finishers at Haskell’s home course, Gentle Rolling Hills.
“The goal for Natalie today was to get out with the front pack and maintain a good pace and she did a really good job of that,” said assistant coach Michael Whittlesey. “She hasn’t raced competitively in quite a while but she’s done a great job of staying focused and it’s obviously paying off.”
Becker, who hails from St. Louis, Mo., was competing in her first race of the 2012 season after recovering from an off season injury. Even though she was the only Jayhawk woman to run in a KU uniform Saturday, she didn’t let the lack of her team’s pack phase her as she lead for the majority of the 5K race.
“The race really went as planned today,” Becker said following the race. “I went out at a good pace and I felt relaxed at the end. It really just felt good to be back out there.”
The junior outpaced Baker’s Lauren Jaqua down the home stretch and beat the field by nearly eight seconds to earn the first individual victory of her career. Becker’s time was also a personal best, crossing the finish line in 18:25.62.
“There’s no doubt this is a confidence booster for me,” Becker explained. “It’s definitely nice to be able to get my feet wet and have a strong run like this before the big meets start up.”
For the KU men, redshirt sophomore Conner Day had a solid outing in the Crimson and Blue, earning the Jayhawks’ top finish for the first time of his career. Day completed the 8K course in 25:53.81, notching a new personal best time and finishing 10th overall. Not far behind was redshirt freshman Alex Galli, who placed 13th after he traversed the course in 26:19.
“Conner and Alex did a really good job up running up front at the start of the race,” Whittlesey said. “We still need to be more aggressive in the middle part of the race, but I was pleased with how they competed today.”
Also running for the Jayhawks was senior and Lawrence, Kan., native Ben Wilson, who came in 26th and collected a time of 27:00.43.
The Jayhawks now turn their attention to the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, which will see over 300 runners in each of the men’s and women’s races as well as one of the most competitive fields Kansas will see all season. The KU coaches will send their top runners to the meet held in Madison, Wis., and will get a good opportunity to see how their teams compete in a true championship-like environment.
“The Wisconsin meet will be the first time we will really separate the teams into our top seven,” Whittlesey concluded. “It will be a very competitive field but if we can put ourselves in a position to finish high as a team, we’ll be in good shape moving forward in the year.”
The races from Wisconsin will kick off at noon Friday, Oct. 12 with the women’s 6K and continue with the men’s 8K at 12:40 p.m., at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course. A complete recap and results will be available at KUAthletics.com following the completion of the meet.