TEAM CAPTAINS PROUD OF HUTCH’S CROSS COUNTRY EMERGENCE

Blue Dragon Men's Cross Country team captain Jared Stark leads the No. 4 Blue Dragon men' into the NJCAA Division I Championships on Saturday in Garden City (Casey Bailey/Blue Dragon Sports Information)
Blue Dragon Men's Cross Country team captain Jared Stark leads the No. 4 Blue Dragon men' into the NJCAA Division I Championships on Saturday in Garden City (Casey Bailey/Blue Dragon Sports Information)
INFORMATION BOX

BLUE DRAGON MEN'S CROSS COUNTRY

NJCAA DIVISION I CHAMPIONSHIPS

When: Saturday, November 10, 2018
Where: Buffalo Dunes CC, Garden City, KS
Women's Race: 11 a.m.
Men's Race: Noon
Live Results: Wayzata Timing

By Steve Carpenter
Hutchinson Community College Sports Information Director

These are proud times for Hutchinson Community College cross country team captains Jared Stark and Sarah Patteson.

Over their two-year careers, both Stark and Patteson have seen major improvement to their individual performances. The two Hutchinson sophomores, though, have witnessed and been major contributors to something much, much bigger – the transformation of both men's and women's team from middle-of-the-pack teams to title contenders.

"That has been something awesome to see," said Patteson, a sophomore from Udall. "You can definitely see the change in the program. I'm honored and privileged to be part of it."

"It's been cool to be part of," added Stark, a sophomore from Augusta. "The three freshmen who came in have really pushed us and helped us take it to the next level."

Now both team captains hope their teams finish this magical 2018 season off in style on Saturday at the NJCAA Division I Cross Country Championships at Buffalo Dunes Country Club in Garden City. The Jayhawk West champion and No. 7 nationally ranked Blue Dragon women will race at 11 a.m. The Region VI champion and No. 4-ranked Hutchinson men will start around Noon.

From an individual standpoint, both Patteson and Stark have seen dramatic improvements from high school to entering their final races as Blue Dragons on Saturday

Patteson was running in the high 22-minute range in high school, but two weeks ago at the Region VI Championships in Winfield, she posted a tie for the 20th-fastest 5,000-meter time in Blue Dragon history at 19:40.43, which earned all-region and all-conference honors.

Stark placed 14th at Region VI with a personal-best time of 26:02.34 over 8,000 meters. Stark was running in the high 27s early in his freshman season at Hutchinson.

"In high school, I was one of the slowest runners to come in," Stark said. "But Coach Riggs saw potential in me and gave me a chance and it's worked out really well for me.

"It's been great seeing all the guys grow and see the mindset change from being just another team to a legit contender for a podium spot at nationals."

The 2018 season started with both Hutchinson teams winning its own Terry Masterson Twilight Classic team titles. But it wasn't until two weeks later at the Missouri Southern Stampede before signs of a special season emerged.

The women finished fourth in the 20-team field and freshman Lisayo Ewoi broke a 17-year Hutch record for the fastest 5,000-meter time with a mark of 18 minutes, 29.1 seconds.

The men topped that with a second-straight team title and freshman Andrew Kibet claiming his second-straight individual race title.

"I've gone into seasons before thinking we were going to be pretty good and things didn't work out, but I knew we were going to have a pretty good team this year and it has worked out," said fourth-year head coach Justin Riggs, the 2018 Region VI Men's Coach of the Year. "Missouri Southern was definitely a moment where we did start to realize some of our potential."

"We took down Allen at Missouri Southern and that made us think we were going to be a legit team and that this season could be something really special," Stark added.

The Blue Dragon men won 4 of 5 team events this season and their only non-win was a second-place finish by a scant two points to Colby. That loss was avenged at regionals when the Blue Dragons captured their first Region VI team title since 1996 and Kibet became the first Blue Dragon individual champion since Bryan Lopez in 1983.

The success of the Blue Dragon men's team has somewhat overshadowed a tremendous year for the Blue Dragon women, who will break a school record for the fastest team average in team history this season.

Hutchinson's women have three team titles this season, winning the Masterson and Fort Hays State titles, in addition to the Jayhawk West crown.

"It's been a breakout year for the women" Riggs said. "They've been overshadowed by our guys. They haven't gotten enough credit for what they've accomplished. They've performed really well. I think they are motivated for a Top 10 finish."

"I saw our attitude change throughout the year," Patteson said. "In the beginning, we didn't know what to expect or what our potential was. After our home meet, we had the potential to do something great because people were going out of their way to reach their potential. We had the drive and that's helped us be successful."

The Blue Dragon men go in search of their first Top 10 national finish since 2003 and first Top 5 finish since 1998. The last Blue Dragon men's runner to earn All-America honors was Ross Wilden in 2005.

Hutch's women haven't placed in the NJCAA Top 10 since 2003 and haven't been in the Top 5 since winning the 2001 national championship. The Dragons also haven't had an All-American since 2001 when Ruth Limo, Lisa Volk and Pam Shelite earned All-America honor for the 2001 national champions.