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IU cross-country teams are eyeing National Championship appearances


Then-junior, now senior, Maggie Allen runs in the Sam Bell Invitational on Sept. 30, 2017, at the IU Championship Cross-Country Course. Allen and the Hoosiers qualified for the NCAA Championships.  Bobby Goddin Buy Photos

IU cross-country will compete in the Great Lakes Regional Championship on Friday in Terre Haute, Indiana. 

Both the men's and women's teams have the opportunity to qualify for the NCAA Championship meet depending on their placement in this meet. IU will face familiar opponents as the race will feature Big Ten competition, in addition to Notre Dame’s nationally ranked teams.

“The whole purpose of the regional is to move forward and qualify for the national meet,” IU Coach Ron Helmer said. “It’s a significant challenge.”

Five nationally ranked teams come from the Great Lakes Region on the women’s side. 

The No.14-ranked women’s team is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Big Ten Championships. IU enters the regional meet ranked behind Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. 

“It’s kind of comforting knowing that heading into regionals," senior Maggie Allen said. "We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Nothing extraordinary has to happen, but we all have to have a really solid performance.”

The women’s championship 6K will see 34 teams and 305 individual competitors running, but the Hoosiers’ biggest opposition will come from the Big Ten.

Despite entering the Big Ten Championships on Oct. 28 ranked No.10 in the country, the women fell to not only Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, but also unranked Penn State.

Allen said the seniors are using their last season of cross-country racing as motivation to run great races as they count down their final meets. Helmer said his team is one of the most talented he's ever had, and the goal is to make it back to the National Championship. 

“Our patience and experience are things that we want to focus on,” Allen said. “A little bit of a special part is knowing that this my last go-around, this is Katherine’s last go-around, I think having that being a part of it and knowing that a good majority of us won’t be here next year."

On the men’s side, the Hoosiers also enter the Great Lakes Regional meet as one of five nationally ranked teams. IU is ranked fourth in the region behind Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Purdue. Similar to the women’s team, its competition stems from the Big Ten Conference, alongside the ACC champions in Notre Dame.

In the Big Ten Championships, the IU men’s team placed third with only three points separating themselves and fifth place. They finished one point ahead of Michigan and three points ahead of Michigan State. They’ll have to fend off the Wolverines and Spartans once again in a fight for positioning in the national meet.

“We know exactly who our competition will be, and our competition knows us,” senior Kyle Mau said. “Knowing that as long as we run the way we’re capable of, we should be able to get a spot to nationals. We feel like that’s well within our reach.” 

The Hoosiers will face a 10K race, rather than an 8K, in Terre Haute on Friday. Helmer said the key to overcoming a longer race is patience and positioning while being able to run for an extra six to seven minutes. 

The distance will mostly affect the men’s two true freshmen athletes, Dustin Horter and Arjun Jha. This will be their first 10K race, but Helmer said he isn’t worried about their physical ability to perform in this atmosphere.

“When we took the redshirts off of both Dustin and Arjun it was with the idea that they could handle a 10K when we got to this time of the year,” Helmer said. “It’s just staying really patient for 25 minutes. I think those guys have the ability to do that, but it is something we have to build into our race plan.”

The men will run another 10K at the national meet in Madison, Wisconsin, on Nov. 17 if they qualify Friday.

Should both IU teams qualify as one of the 31 teams to compete in the NCAA Championships, it would be the first time since 2013 that both teams qualify in the same year.

“We just need to go out and execute on Friday,” Mau said.

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