Everything to gain and nothing to lose.
IU coach Ron Helmer repeated the phrase multiple times as he described his expectations for the IU men’s and women’s cross country teams as they travel to Rochester, Mich. for the NCAA Great Lakes Regional on Saturday.
Helmer said the team’s preparation will help it overcome the obstacles and pressure of a big national meet.
“At the end of this long season, every week we should be more ready to go out and produce a good, solid performance because of all of the work we have done over the summer,” Helmer said. “With the pressure of a national meet, you can go out and beat a lot of people that earlier you couldn’t because some of these runners may be running out of gas. Mentally, we are in the right place, which relaxes us, so in the end it will take care of itself.”
To advance to the NCAA Championships, the teams must finish in the top two to earn automatic bids. Also, the top three finishers from non-advancing teams will earn a spot in the national meet.
The No. 12-ranked men will look to advance to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2007. Last time out, the team took second place at the Big Ten Championships behind the host and 12-time defending champion Wisconsin Badgers.
Sophomore Zach Mayhew said the experience that the team gained last year from a somewhat disappointing finish, advancing only Andrew Poore to nationals, will benefit them this year.
“Experience makes a big difference in big races like this one,” Mayhew said. “It helps with the mental aspect of running because it keeps you confident. It’s easier to not panic and stay calm when you’ve been raced in a big race like this before.”
The women’s road to nationals may be harder, as Helmer said the team will probably need to beat Michigan or Michigan State to place in the top two to earn the automatic bid, but the coach continued to emphasize that anything could happen this weekend.
“We have the ability to run ourselves into the national meet, and we understand that we are capable of doing that,” Helmer said. “When you get to championship time, anything can happen, and we saw that last year as we went in ranked 7th and ended up 4th in the region because other teams began to tail off. We may or may not end up at nationals, but we have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”