Both squads ran at Percy Warner Park on Aug.31 in the Belmont Opener, with each team finishing fifth in the team standings. Senior Joseph Chebet earned runner-up honors in his debut meet for the Hilltoppers and captured Sun Belt Conference Men's Runner of the Week honors for his efforts. True freshman Lindsey Hinken was the top finisher on the women's side, placing 22nd overall in the 4,000-meter race.
WKU normally hosts the Old Timers Classic in mid-September but head coach Erik Jenkins said he wants to stiffen the regular season competition to prepare his runners for postseason races.
"You have to race the best to be the best," said Jenkins. We're a young team. We've got to put them in a position where they can compete at a high level and make them understand what it's like to be in that situation so as they mature, when they go to NCAAs, it won't shock them."
The Lady Toppers are one of 25 competitors in the gold heat and will face eight Southeastern Conference schools in the race, including host institution and sixth-ranked Vanderbilt. Also competing will be Sun Belt Conference rivals Middle Tennessee State and Georgia State. Starting time for the women's 6,000-meter race is slated for 9:45 AM (CT).
The Hilltoppers will square off with 23 other teams, including seven SEC opponents. Georgia and Eastern Kentucky enter the weekend nationally ranked in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) poll, coming in at No.30 and No.27, respectively. Sun Belt Conference foes Georgia State and Middle Tennessee State are also in the 8,000-meter race, which is set to being at 9 AM (CT).
Jenkins believes the quality of competition will be a good measuring stick for both his teams.
"The SEC is one of the premier conferences in cross country," said Jenkins. "We expect there to be a few nationally and regionally ranked teams at the meet. It will be a great opportunity for us to continue to prepare championships later in the season."