Junior Andrew Poore could not help but put his teammate Zach Mayhew on the spot as the rest of their training partners — De’Sean Turner, Ben Hubers and Andy Bayer — listened.
“Mayhew is probably the funniest guy out of our training group,” Poore said. “He comes up with these quick-witted comments. He’s usually pretty quiet, but when he talks, he saves up for a good one.”
As the group of four guys circled around Mayhew, the sophomore from Terre Haute was asked to whom he would compare his training group. Mayhew quickly responded, “‘The Avengers,’ and I would be Iron Man.”
Whether or not the nickname will stick, the five runners have used their extraordinary talents to propel the Hoosiers to the nation’s elite level.
After a statement victory in the adidas Invitational against six ranked teams on Oct. 2, including 11-time defending Big Ten Champion Wisconsin on its home course, the IU men’s cross-country shot up to No. 7 in the national rankings.
It was the team’s highest ranking since November 2004.
In that race, all five finished in the top 20. Four — Bayer, Poore, Turner and Mayhew — finished in the top 10.
It has not been an easy road to national prominence as the team began training together a year and a half ago, but Hubers remembered when he first began to see the progress the team was making.
“I began to notice at the beginning of last cross-country season when we came in, and we had worked really hard all summer,” Hubers said. “This season we are looking at all the hard work we did last year and are like, ‘Wow, we are doing so much better this year.’”
The team has set its collective sights on winning the Big Ten Championship for the first time since 1980.
Bayer said achieving that goal and running to the team’s best ability may lie in the safety of numbers.
“I think it really helps running in a group,” Bayer said. “It’s a lot harder to race by yourself in the middle of a hundred people. We talk (to each other) a little bit during the race to tell someone to relax.”
Bayer, who was voted Big Ten Runner of the Week after the meet in Wisconsin, admitted to a little bit of a trash talking out on the course.
“In our last race, we were all kind of poking fun at the Wisconsin guys while we were by them,” Bayer said with a smile and a laugh. “But I shouldn’t be telling you this.”
On the weekends off the course, the guys are like any college entourage. Bonfires and movies are some team bonding events, but Hubers said none are as big as their early November’s “Canadian Thanksgiving.”
“We aren’t here during the American Thanksgiving, so we have the ‘Canadian Thanksgiving’ to get together and bring food,” Hubers said. “I’m one of the few Canadians on the team, so it’s a good bonding event.”
“I’m cooking the turkey,” Hubers added.
When on the course, Poore, who received all-Big Ten honors last season, said the driving force behind this team is the desire to win.
“We want to beat people,” Poore said. “That’s it. That’s what inspires us.”
If the team loses any bit of that desire, they need to look no further than De’Sean Turner, who Bayer said is by far the inspirational leader. Who would Turner compare his own inspiration style to?
“Denzel (Washington) in ‘Remember the Titans,’” Turner said.
The junior said although every team is an obstacle, one of the biggest hurdles is the mental struggle of running.
“A lot of it is mental. We need to keep our heads in the game while training with each other because we all know we’re around the same capability as far as racing,” Turner said. “I think we are more mentally ready than any of our previous years.”
So how will Mayhew remember “The Avengers?”
“These guys keep me going every day,” Mayhew said. “What I think helps a lot is everyone is very good. Not one of us is going to have a great day every day. But when someone is having a good day, they pull the rest of us along and keep