It was a record-setting performance for the Indiana men’s cross country team, but it wasn’t enough.
In a race that saw four IU men receive All-Big Ten honors, the men totaled 60 points but were unable to stay with No. 2 Wisconsin, which dominated the Big Ten Championships, tallying 17 points Sunday in Urbana, Ill.
The 60 points from No. 7 IU was its best score in 31 years and would normally be good enough to put a team in contention for victory, but Wisconsin ran too well and avoided any costly mistakes on its way to a 13th consecutive Big Ten title.
“We knew for us to have a shot, we needed to run with them early on and hope they cracked,” IU Coach Ron Helmer said. “They didn’t, and we did. We did a great job once it was apparent that we got beat up on pretty good. We kept ourselves together and scored 60 points. I was happy and proud of the way we engaged them from the beginning of the race, all the way past midway through the race.”
Helmer decided to alter the team’s strategy in an attempt to force Wisconsin into a mistake. He wanted the men’s team to keep pace with Wisconsin from the start, instead of trying to build gradually throughout the race.
While the move didn’t pan out, Helmer said it gave the team its best chance to win.
“We were trying to do something that, probably, we weren’t going to be capable of sustaining to the end, but we gave it a shot,” he said.
“We could have run much closer to them had we laid off the pace and built up to it, but we were going to have no chance to beat them," he continued. "We had to mix it up with them and see if our presence would pressure them enough to the point where one of them would have broken first, but it just didn’t quite work.”
Senior Andrew Poore led the way for the men in the 8K race, clocking in at 23:41, good for seventh overall.
Andy Bayer finished 10th in 23:56, and junior Zach Mayhew followed at 11th in 23:58. Senior Adrien Dannemiller finished 14th with a time of 24:10, while senior De’Sean Turner rounded out the scoring for IU by completing the race in 24:18, good for 18th.
Poore, Bayer, Mayhew and Dannemiller all earned All-Big Ten accolades. It was the second time Bayer has done so, while Mayhew did it for the third straight year.
This marks the first time in school history that four Hoosiers have taken home all-conference awards in the same meet.
After the race, Helmer said he was pleased, not only with the four record-setters but also with his entire team’s ability and the depth it displayed.
“We had the best sixth, seventh and eighth man in the meet, so our depth is really good," Helmer said. "Our depth today is better than (Wisconsin’s) depth, which means something good is going on, even though they’ve probably got more scholarship money tied up in it.”
The women’s team, however, did not run as well as the men, finishing 10th overall with 228 points and leaving Helmer dissatisfied.
“It’s disappointing because while we’re probably not that team that should be contending for the conference championship, we’re certainly a team that should be contending for one of those upper-tier spots,” he said. “I’ve said several times, and I won’t say it unless I believe it to be true, I think we trained at a much higher level than we’ve raced. We didn’t compete well.”
Junior Samantha Ginther paced IU in 30th with a time of 21:01 in the 6K. Junior Caitlin Engel finished seconds later in 34th place in 21:07. Senior Chelsea Blanchard, senior Breanne Ehrman and junior Arianne Raby crossed the finish line 51st, 55th and 58th, respectively, to round out the women’s scoring.
“I’m not happy with that,” Helmer said. “We have very little money invested in that area, and yet those girls are good enough to do much better than they did if they would just believe it and go out and compete at the level they’re training.
“On the women’s side, I’m not getting the job done relative to our goals," Helmer said. "We’re trying to do this through development, but we’re not where we need to be.”
Though the women didn’t perform to Helmer’s expectations, the day belonged to the men and their record-setting race.
“I’m pretty happy with where we are compared to where we came from,” Helmer said. “That’s the best cross country team I’ve had since I’ve been here.”