Oct. 5, 2011
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It took a pair of All-America efforts for the University of Iowa women’s cross country team to finish 10th at the 2007 NCAA Championships. In 2011, it will take a collaborative team approach and a special effort from a ‘runner to be named later.’
Head cross country coach Layne Anderson knows he has four horsemen in seniors Brooke Eilers, Betsy Flood, McKenzie Melander and freshman Kayla Beattie. But if this year’s group is going to challenge for a national top 10 finish, it’s going to need a fifth starter — or as Anderson puts it, someone to help finish the game.
“We need that little extra run support,” said Anderson, “It’s like middle relief in baseball. We’re looking for someone to get us to the Sandman.”
The Sandman, of course, is Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. The middle relief, however, is still that ‘runner to be named later.’ The four runners at the top of the rotation have proven track (or cross country) records. Former NCAA participants Eilers, Flood and Melander have their names peppered throughout the school record book, and Beattie has a prep and international record rivaled by few — she won the 3,000-meters at the USA Outdoor Junior Track and Field Championships and earned gold medals in both the 3K and 5K at the 2011 Pan American Junior Championships.
But outside the top four, the fifth and final scoring spot is up for grabs, and Anderson says it could be a different Hawkeye each week.
“We have a supporting cast of seven candidates in pursuit of our front four,” said Anderson. “Whoever it is, they’ll have to have the faith and confidence to go out and execute. I thought we did that to some degree last weekend. We got some people who went out and were aggressive right off the line. They took our strategy to heart. They got out with our lead group and as a result good things happened.”
Last weekend was a picturesque sight for Anderson. The Hawkeyes ran as a group and finished first among 53 teams at the Lakefront Invitational in Chicago. The four horsemen — Beattie, Eilers, Flood and Melander — finished third through sixth, while Kelsey Hart, Megan Ranegar and Mareike Schrulle kept pace with the pack and finished ninth, 10th and 12th, respectively.
“Last week we did a nice job of sticking to a game plan and finding success,” said Anderson. “We kept a nice gap of 10 seconds and between runners one through six. We need a tight gap between runners one through five, but the more we have together, the better.
“The reality of it is, going forward in the weeks and races ahead, that fifth runner may be different person each time. And it’s not to say that one of those young ladies couldn’t get up there and challenge for one of those top four spots. That would be even better. The good news is we have a lot of able, healthy contenders for those scoring spots.”
Anderson also says he doesn’t have just one single horse in the race. He thinks this year’s team is as deep as any he’s had in his nine years. The key, he said, is for each student-athlete to prepare to peak when the stage is the highest.
“We have the potential to be as good as that ’07 team,” said Anderson. “That team got 10th behind three dominating performances at the front end at the national meet (Diane Nukuri, fourth; Meghan Armstrong, 13th; Jolly Burke, 34th). We had good girls who were working hard and running for themselves, but we didn’t have the kind of quality depth we have now. I don’t want to say that Betsy, Brooke, McKenzie or Kayla are destined to finish fourth, I don’t want to put that sort of pressure on them, but I feel like we have All-America candidates out of those front four.
“So much of it is navigating your way through the season and being healthy, fit and fresh at that particular time on that particular day. That’s what the 2007 group did. If we can run our best race on the days ahead, it’s pretty exciting to think about this team’s potential.”
The Hawkeyes return to the course at the Wisconsin Inter-Regional on Oct. 14 before the championship season begins Oct. 30 at the Big Ten Championships in Champaign, Ill. The first round of the NCAA Championships is Nov. 11 in Dekalb, Ill., and the final round of the NCAA Championships is Nov. 19 in Terre Haute, Ind.