The Western Kentucky men’s track and field team is running with an elite crowd this season.
The Hilltoppers, who were nationally ranked for the first time — No. 25 in the preseason ratings by U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association — earned All-American honors in three events Wednesday at the NCAA Track and Field National Championships.
“You look at who else is in the Top 25 and for us to be Conference USA, outside of the Power 5, I think that is a testament to where our program is headed and also the university as a whole and the athletic department,” head coach Erik Jenkins said.
WKU won the indoor championship in its inaugural year in C-USA, the men’s 12th conference title and 26th overall in track/cross country since Jenkins took the baton in 2008 at his alma mater.
Jenkins said recruiting is the key to vaulting into the top echelon. The Hilltoppers’ young team finished 18th in the NCAA outdoor meet — ahead of any Atlantic Coast Conference schools.
“You’ve got to have the athletes to complete at a high level,” Jenkins said. “Right now we’ve been blessed to be able to go out and find kids who believe in what we’re trying to build here and continue to establish upon.
“WKU has had a proud track and field and cross country tradition. They’ve been successful in the OVC, Sun Belt and now we won our first championship within Conference USA. And so we want to continue to build on our national footprint.”
Ghana native Emmanuel Dasor and Ventavius Sears, who were All-Americans in two relays as freshmen last year, ran the middle legs of the 4×100-meter relay team includingJa’Karyus Redwine and Corey Parks that finished 11th in the NCAA championship semifinals to garner second-team All-American accolades with a time of 39.67 seconds.
Sears also become the fourth Hilltoppers long-jumper to capture All-American honors with a mark of 25 feet, 5 inches, finishing eighth in the finals. He is already a four-time All-American two seasons into his Hilltoppers career.
“The day I came on campus, Coach Jenkins was really straightforward and I really liked that about him,” Sears said. “… Coach Jenkins told me how it was going to be, how his program is run, everything he’s expecting me to do right from the jump. He wasn’t beating around the bush.
“I just had the gut feeling that WKU was the place for me to be, and I’m glad I’m here.”
Sears, also a triple-jumper, visited Southeastern Conference schools Tennessee and Georgia during recruiting.
“I did feel like I could come to WKU and have an impact on the team,” he said. “But looking past the athletics part, I felt like it was the best for me to help me become a better person.”
Tomas Guerra became the second three-time All-American field athlete in WKU history when he finished 10th in the javelin throw at the NCAA championships with a mark of 69.66 meters.