Bowling Green, Ky. - The Western Kentucky University men's and women's cross country teams will play host to the Sun Belt Conference Cross Country Championships on Saturday for the third-consecutive year. The women's 5,000-meter race is set to take off at 10 AM (CT) while the men's 8,000-meter competition will begin at 11 AM (CT).
Both races will take place at WKU's home course Kereiakes Park with an awards ceremony immediately following the men's 8K.
The Lady Toppers are looking to extend their cross country championship streak to seven, while the Hilltoppers aim for back-to-back titles for the first time since the 1997-98 seasons. The squads swept the championships for the eighth time in school history in 2011, and hope to make it consecutive sweeps for the first time since 1986-87.
Senior Vasity Chemweno leads a youthful Lady Topper bunch that features 10 underclassmen, including six freshmen. Chemweno has been a huge part of the women's championship success the last two years, finishing runner-up in 2010 and placing fourth in 2011 while earning All-Sun Belt Conference honors in both seasons.
Chemweno is coming off the first win of her career, as she won the Fast Cats Classic in Owensboro, Ky. on Oct. 13 with a 5,000-meter clocking of 18:09. Just three seconds behind Chemweno was standout freshmen Lindsey Hinken, who finished the event runner-up for her first-career Top 10. In four collegiate races Hinken has placed Top 25 in three competitions.
The strong efforts led the Lady Toppers to their first team victory of 2012 and they'll take that momentum into Saturday's race in hopes of capturing their 18th conference crown.
The Hilltoppers shoot for their second-consecutive title in cross country and the fifth straight for the overall track and field program. WKU has won each championship dating back to the 2011 Sun Belt Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships and is coming off the first triple crown in men's Sun Belt history (2011 Cross Country, 2012 Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field).
Senior Joseph Chebet has made his mark in the Hilltopper record books in just one cross country season on the Hill, winning two of WKU's four regular-season events. His victories at Pre-Nationals and the Commodore Classic make him the first Hilltopper runner since Nicholas Aliwell (1998) to win multiple races in a season. He's also the first men's runner to win a competition outside of WKU's home course of Kereiakes Park since at least 2004. He has posted back-to-back personal-best times at Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville, Ky., running the 8,000-meter course in 24:04 at the Greater Louisville Classic and 23:56.7 at Pre-Nationals.
Chebet will lead an experienced group of Hilltoppers in their quest for a 16th cross country title. WKU returns two All-Sun Belt Conference runners from 2011's championship squad in senior Kyle Chettleburgh and sophomore David Mokone. Mokone placed fourth in last year's championships while Chettleburgh came in at ninth. The pair will be vital in the No.2 and No.3 slots for WKU on Saturday.
Much will be expected out of sophomore Sean Hurd as well, who has finished Top 30 in two of WKU's four competitions this season. Hurd placed 20th at the Belmont Opener and 27th at the Commodore Classic, both ran at Percy Warner Park (Nashville, Tenn.).
Since taking the reins of the track and field/cross country programs in January 2008, head coach Erik Jenkins has led WKU to a combined 22 Sun Belt Conference Championships. Jenkins has been at the helm for four of the Lady Toppers cross country titles (2008-11) and two of the Hilltoppers crowns (2008,2011). He and his runners will search for titles 23 and 24 in the confines of their home course.
"Familiarity is always good so we're thankful we can host the championships here at home and be in friendly surroundings," said Jenkins. "Obviously we want to be successful and what better place to do it than at home."