As the University of Kansas begins to celebrate its 50th year of having women’s athletics, cross country coach Stanley Redwine began to ponder at KU fall sports media day about the special impact that junior Sharon Lokedi has already made in his program in just two years.
Lokedi had a standout sophomore campaign that started on the cross country course with an individual Big 12 title and fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. The Eldoret, Kenya native then had a strong spring on the track, as she collected Big 12 championships in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters and earned a third-place finish at the NCAA meet in the 10,000 meters.
“In being one of our most decorated female athletes here in the past I don’t know how many years, it’s really good to have her here. She wants to do well, and we want her to do well, and it’s our job to prepare her to achieve her goals,” said Redwine of Lokedi.
Lokedi went from being one of the younger runners on the team to one of the most experienced over the course of the offseason. While Lokedi has led by example since arriving in Lawrence, she realizes that she’ll be counted upon by her teammates even more after the graduation of Jennifer Angles, Malika Baker, Nashia Baker, Courtney Coppinger, Hannah Richardson and Rachel Simon.
“What has motivated me is knowing that what I got last year is from the hard work that I had. So being there, I know how it feels,” Lokedi said. “Now I’m ready to train and train harder to get farther than that. In order to go higher to get positions or whatever, I have to start now training as hard as I can.”
Senior Hannah Dimmick and redshirt junior Alaina Schroeder are the only other upperclassmen on the KU women’s roster besides Lokedi. Both the women’s and men’s teams are loaded with redshirt and true sophomores, as well as a large group of redshirt freshmen.
“Now it’s their turn. It’s the sophomores’ turn to step up,” Redwine said. “So as they’re stepping up and wanting to contribute to the team, they know how. I think it also depends on the seniors that we have and the juniors that we have to help bring them up, but they’re doing a really good job.”
The Jayhawks also have a lot of youth on the men’s side, but Redwine has full confidence in his upperclassmen to lead the way this fall.
“We have Michael Melgares and Chris Melgares, who I believe are going to be our two leaders as well,” Redwine said. “Our No. 5 person is as important as our No. 1 person. It’s just the pack that we have to create for both teams in order to run well to do well at our league meet and at the NCAA meet.”
Michael and Chris Melgares placed 32nd and 35th, respectively, at the NCAA regional cross country meet last fall. The Melgares brothers aren’t only expecting to qualify for the national meet this season, but they’re looking to do so as part of a team — which would mean placing first or second at regionals or getting an at-large bid.
“Over my four years here, we’ve done a really good job of changing the culture to where I’d say for the most part that we’re all really focused on achieving those goals,” Chris said. “This is it. It’s time to take our shot and see what we can do.”
Ben Burchstead and Carson Vickroy will join Chris as seniors for the Jayhawks. The Kansas men’s team will also have three juniors between the younger Melgares brother, Dylan Hodgson and Jack McDonald.
“We have some younger guys, but for the most part the upperclassmen have done a good job in setting the tone of really no nonsense to where we’re all focused on achieving what our goals are,” Chris said. “I don’t think there is any question that we want to go to nationals, and I think when people show up to practice every day with that in mind, that’s how we’re going to change things and kind of turn around the direction of the program.”
The Melgares brothers have seen their bond grow during their time at Kansas. Chris and Michael were hoping that another Melgares would be joining the Jayhawks this fall, but their younger sister Cara decided to stay in their hometown and run at Kansas State.
“Yeah, she’s a traitor,” Chris said with a smile.
As Chris’ senior season begins, he has started to realize that his last few meets as a collegiate runner at Rim Rock Farm are drawing near. The Jayhawks will begin the season on their home course with the Bob Timmons Dual Classic on Sept. 2 and the Rim Rock Classic on Sept. 30.
“Oh gosh, it’s going to be pretty emotional when I run my last college race there because it’s such a beautiful course. You take it for granted being able to train out there and race out there so much,” Chris said. “But at the same time, I fully intend to be back on that course post-collegiately running and then I’ll definitely be attending meets out there. It’s just another step along the path, I think, because I’ll definitely come back.”