Way back in 1952, Hutchinson Community College unveiled the Hutchinson Sports Arena as its new home for Blue Dragon basketball. In 2006, the renovated Gowans Stadium opened as the spectacular new home of Blue Dragon football and track and field.
Saturday, the Blue Dragons will have another grand opening what potentially will be a spectacular new home for the HCC men’s and women’s cross country teams.
The Westar Energy/Prairie Ridge Park will play host to the Blue Dragon Invitational. The 5K women’s race is at 10 a.m. and the 8K men’s race is at 10:30 a.m.
“The course is unique are there isn’t many like it in the area or state,” first-year HCC head coach Rod Zook said. “It’s built strictly for running. It’s not built on a golf course. It’s not built on a lake; it’s not in a park. It’s something that it will be permanent and we hope to build permanent structures and make it a park like we envision.
To look at the Westar Energy/Prairie Ridge Park from 30th Avenue to the south or Lucille Avenue to the east, the plot of land the course is laid out on doesn’t look all that special. All you can really see is the native grasses. What you can’t see is all the undulations the grass covers that makes this course a wonderful running course.
Probably the most well-known cross country course in the state of Kansas is Rim Rock Farms, the home of the University of Kansas cross country teams. So how does Prairie Ridge and Rim Rock compare?
“Rim Rock is a lot smoother,” Zook said. “This course is very bumpy and there’s a lot of sand. In some areas, the track is very firm and in other areas it’s very soft and unpredictable. It really varies from one end of the course to the other. You have to run what you see instead of what you know.
“The hills don’t look so big out there, but once you start running on them, they are very tough. And if the wind blows at all, it’s very tough.”
The last two seasons, the Blue Dragons Invitational was contested at Rice Park, a flat course with few challenges. Plus, the last two seasons were run at far less than the standard college 5K and 8K distances.
For the 2012 Blue Dragons, this is their chance to not only show off the new course, but try to build on what was a solid start to the season after strong showings at Wichita State two weeks ago.
“We are affectionately calling this ‘The Romp at the Ridge.” Zook said. “The whole goal is to bring back cross country and bring back an invitational. The two closest meets this week are in Lincoln and Warrensburg, Mo. This is the only show in the state on this weekend. We are hoping schools will want to run this meet in the figure where it grows and it becomes something regular on the schedule.”
Today, some 80 runners will take to the course in the two races to test the course, which will play host to the 2013 Region VI Championships.
Admission is free for the Blue Dragon Invitational. Parking will be in the Prairie Hills Middle School parking lot. Team camps will be set up on the Prairie Hills baseball field.
“The course will be the star of the show,” Zook said. “The course will be difficult to run on. The conditions won’t be as nice as we would like. The drought has been tough on it. It doesn’t look as hard as it is. It’s not a hard course, but it’s very deceptive and it doesn’t look nearly has hard as it is and it will catch people by surprise.”
(HCC Sports Information)