Sunday’s Big Ten Cross-Country Championships will be contested at one of the most difficult courses in the conference.
That course happens to be the IU Championship Cross Country Course in Bloomington.
The home course advantage will give Coach Ron Helmer and his runners plenty of confidence heading into the weekend.
In the two races at the IU course this year, the Hoosiers have beaten multiple Big Ten opponents. Both the men’s and women’s teams finished first overall at the IU Open on Sept. 2, while the men’s team finished first and the women’s team finished second at the Sam Bell Invitational Sept. 30.
“It gives me confidence because I feel like the runners are confident,” Helmer said. “They like and understand that course. They know that course is hard and will send a jolt through you so they’re prepared for that going in. When it happens, it won’t be a surprise, and they’ll know how to manage it well.”
The bad news for the Hoosiers is their lack of momentum heading into the conference championships. In their last meet two weeks ago, the Hoosiers struggled mightily at the Nuttycombe Invitational in Wisconsin.
Not only did the men’s and women’s teams finish 29th and 17th overall in the 35 and 33-team fields, but they were beaten by numerous conference rivals as well.
Sophomore Ben Veatch said the key to overcoming that performance is to move on and get it out of their heads completely.
“We’ve talked about what we thought happened there, but we put it to bed,” Veatch said. “It just not something we want to think about. We know that’s not us and that we just need to move forward.”
Despite the disappointing finish in Wisconsin, both teams find themselves within striking distance to claim the Big Ten title.
In the men’s race, there are four ranked teams — Michigan (13th), Michigan State (15th), Minnesota (18th) and Penn State (30th). Meanwhile, IU, Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue have all either been ranked or received votes at some point this year.
“We’ve seen a lot of these teams already this year. They know who we are, and we know who they are,” Veatch said. “We’re all sort of on the same skill level.”
Parity is evident in the women’s race as well.
IU, which is currently ranked 29th in the nation, is one of six ranked Big Ten teams along with Penn State (ninth), Michigan (10th), Wisconsin (17th), Minnesota (19th) and Michigan State (20th).
Michigan, which will be considered one of the favorites after being ranked as high as fourth this year, has had its share of successes in Bloomington this year.
The Wolverines won the Sam Bell Invitational, but only beat IU by ten points, showing just how close Sunday’s race could be.
“I think the important thing is to race to the best of our ability and beat the people in front of us,” junior Maggie Allen said. “Going in to the race, we know we’re going up against the some of the best competitors in the nation. I think going in and being aware of our competition is important but the most important thing is to just race for ourselves and our team.”
Helmer will approach the meet a bit differently than his runners will.
He said he sees this as a race that could not only affect their current standing for this season, but as one that could shape their program for the next few years to come.
“We need to take a big step forward,” Helmer said. “This recruiting class is going to be really good and these guys can set up what could be a really exciting next four or five years. I anticipate they will run really well on Sunday.”
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