The beginning of any season always brings optimism, but for IU Coach Ron Helmer and his IU cross country team there is an extra sense of belief.
Saturday’s Indiana Open offers IU runners their first shot at competing this year. It is also one of the only times the Hoosiers get to run at home as the other home meet, the Hoosier Invitational, is Nov. 6.
The men said they come into the race with high expectations as they are ranked 11th in the nation.
“Initially, you may look at our ranking and say we are overrated given the experience we have,” Helmer said, “but if you look at their track times and the talent we have, it is a very fair ranking.”
In last year’s NCAA Championships, the men finished 15th with strong showings from senior Matt Schwartzer and junior Jason Crist.
This was the men’s fourth time in five years finishing in the top 15 at the national meet.
Schwartzer was the Hoosiers’ top finisher for the meet, and his time of 30:59.7 was good enough for 43rd place in the nation. Crist finished less than a minute behind his teammate at 31:14.5, which gave him a 65th-place finish.
“We have done a lot of hard training this summer, running in the hottest parts of the day,” Crist said.
Crist called Saturday’s race a fitness test to see how far along he and his teammates are on their training.
Other key returning runners for the men include seniors Owen Skeete and Rorey Hunter. Junior Carl Smith, an All-Big Ten runner in 2013, also returned after missing last season with an injury.
Last year’s women’s team failed to qualify for the NCAA meet, but Helmer said he believes they could challenge for a top-10 spot by the time this year’s NCAA meet comes around.
“We had a down year last year, but this year the main thing is getting everyone healthy and fit,” redshirt sophomore Madison Stenger said.
Stenger added she’s excited for the season because it’s clear to her that everyone has come in prepared.
“We just need to get a run in and we are not sharp and ready to run a race,” Helmer said on his expectations for Saturday’s meet. “It’s just a chance to show up on the course and compete against someone else.”
He said the best thing for his team is coming out of the race healthy and potentially having some unexpected runners step up and show their potential.
Tennessee Tech is the other team racing Saturday. Along with Tennessee Tech, IU Running Club and a few alumni will also be running.
The women’s 5K is the first race of the day, starting at 9:20 a.m, while the men’s 8K begins at 10:10 a.m.