Ever since the Hoosier women placed 31st in the NCAA Championship meet in 2009, they have had issues coming back.
Whether because of injuries or just lack of talent, they have come up short when it mattered, including qualifying for the NCAA meet and struggling in the Big Ten Championship. The team finished 10th in last year’s conference championship meet.
This year, the women look to put their demons behind them as they attempt to make it to the NCAAs in Louisville, Ky., in November.
“We’ve kept putting things in place and kept working, and we’ve got a good number of girls that have been training now for three to four years and have done some pretty good things on the track, and it’s time for them to collectively start to believe in themselves,” IU Coach Ron Helmer said.
Through the two meets the women have raced in this season, they may be on the right track.
Although the Hoosiers lost top returning runner and senior Samantha Ginther to an early season injury, the women have been able to make up lost ground to provide a very consistent core group of runners.
Sophomore Kelsey Duerksen has won both of the early season meets, which are considered a warm-up for the real tests of the season, bettering her winning time by 57 seconds from the Hoosier Invitational to the Indiana Intercollegiate meet in Terre Haute nearly two weeks ago.
Behind Duerkson is a strong group of runners, including senior Caitlin Engel, sophomore Molly Winters, graduate student Molly Hirt and junior Erica Ridderman, all of whom came within 40 seconds of Duerkson’s time at Intercollegiates to defeat second-place Purdue, 29-43.
“I feel like we have very good team chemistry right now,” said Hirt, who transferred from Notre Dame. “We all don’t care if we’re first or last, we just want to do well for the team and do the best we can to help everyone else.”
This weekend’s meet will give Helmer and the women’s team a chance to see how they will do against a higher level of competition. The Hoosiers travel to Lawrence, Kan., to compete in the Rim Rock Farm Classic where they will face fellow Big Ten competitor Michigan, ranked 11th, and Toledo, 22nd.
“We’re looking to beat Toledo, and we’re gonna give Michigan a scare (on Saturday),” Winters said. “We’re excited, and we’re hoping to get some at-large points at least, as well as seeing some other girls from the Big Ten.”
Helmer isn’t sure whether this girls team will be a top-three team in the Big Ten or qualify for nationals, but he does have confidence that these goals are possible.
“I think we have the potential to do those things, and it’s time for us to grow up and mature a little bit and take advantage of the work that we’ve done.”