The IU cross-country teams are pursuing Big Ten Championship victories Sunday in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Led by senior Katherine Receveur, the women’s team comes into the meet ranked No. 10 in the nation. It’s its best ranking in program history. With No. 7 Michigan ranked ahead of it and No. 11 Wisconsin right behind, the IU women will compete for its first Big Ten championship victory since 1990.
“We definitely have more confidence than we’ve had in the past,” Receveur said. “But, we understand that just because we’ve raced well up until this point, doesn’t mean that other teams winning isn’t out of the question.”
Receveur mentioned the importance of each, individual athlete in this meet. In a meet with only 14 teams, she said each person counts. Sometimes it’s easy to get swallowed up by the number of people in larger meets.
In this meet, she will be defending her individual Big Ten Championship performance dating back to last year’s meet. Receveur said facing the pressure and expectations that come with being a top runner has been her biggest weakness.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Receveur said. “I really put a lot of pressure on myself. To be honest, I think that’s something I’m still working on.”
IU Coach Ron Helmer said great athletes put pressure on themselves and all great athletes have to deal with that.
On the men’s side, the Hoosiers are ranked No. 22 in the nation and third in the Big Ten. IU competes with No. 18 Purdue while No. 3 Wisconsin is favored to win the meet.
“We’re going to concede right now that more than likely Wisconsin wins with the firepower they have,” Helmer said. “But we’re not going to just give it to them. It’s going to be our intent to go in there and beat as many of them as we possibly can.”
Helmer said cross-country isn’t a sport that often has upsets, but outside of Wisconsin he doesn’t know what order the next four teams would finish in.
“We could run great and be fifth,” Helmer said. “So the question becomes ‘would I rather run mediocre and be second, or would I rather run great and be fifth?’ and I can’t tell you which one I would prefer.”
The men’s team will be led by junior Kyle Mau, but behind him competing in his second meet of the season will be graduate transfer Daniel Michalski.
The former Division II athlete placed 101st at the Pre National meet in his first race with the Hoosiers, but said that performance wasn’t up to his own expectations.
“The first one was more of a rust-buster,” Michalski said. “This one is where I really prove my fitness, my ability and where I belong on the team. This is where the story starts to ramp up."
The last time the IU men’s cross-country team won a Big Ten Championship was in 2013. Helmer said similar to this season, the Hoosiers weren't favored to win that year.
That theme is paralleled this season as the men have a chance to overcome inexperience on a young roster with the addition of Michalski late in the season.
“We’re fighting for a championship now,” Michalski said. “The strength that we have running together will fuel us to stay relaxed and confident. If we’re together and we’re engaged, we’ve got guys that can close as well as anybody.”
The IU men’s and women’s cross-country teams have never won the Big Ten Championship in the same year.
Helmer said competing at a high level each and every year is one of the goals he’s had for the program since becoming the head coach in 2007.
This season is no different.
“It does a lot for validating the program,” Helmer said. “It’s always our intention to contend for Big Ten championships regularly and to contend for top-10 finishes in the national meet regularly. I think we’re there, I think we’re at that place.”