Building on nearly unparalleled success is never easy. IU cross-country saw both the men’s and women’s teams qualify for the NCAA Championships last year for the first time since 2013. Now the Hoosiers in a new season look to further grow the program.
IU, under 13-year head coach Ron Helmer, debuts its 2019 season at the Miami Opener this Friday at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Expectations remain high for the cream and crimson especially on the men’s side with the Hoosiers' top two runners returning, the team has the potential to be a top-10 team in the nation.
“On the guys' side we have gotten deeper, older and better,” Helmer said.
Senior Kyle Mau is at the forefront of the IU men’s team. The Ohio native was the Hoosiers’ top runner all last season, placing 49th at the national championships, just nine spots from being named an All-American. Helmer said he loves Mau's aggressiveness.
Helmer mentioned how Mau has a willingness to put himself into the front group of people due to how invested he is with the team.
The Hoosier women have a murkier picture at the top of their lineup as they enter the 2019 season. IU has lost its top two runners from last year in All-American Maggie Allen and Katherine Receveur.
They will be relying on sophomores Bailey Hertenstein and Sarah Schmitt. Hertenstein was the third IU runner to cross the line at the national championships last November, while Schmitt was frequently making it to the scoring five of the Hoosier lineup.
The two sophomores have legendary shoes to fill, but Helmer mentioned that he believes the tall task is not intimidating for the talented duo.
“I do not think they are worried. I think we have two girls that can be as good as those two,” Helmer said. “How quickly can they develop, so they can show how good they really are?”
Meanwhile, the Hoosier men have more than just Mau at the top of their lineup. Four of IU’s top five runners at the end of last season are returning to race in 2019.
IU also will have a major boost from redshirt senior Ben Veatch. The experienced Hoosier redshirted the cross-country season last year but was the top IU male runner in 2017.
The U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association preseason poll places the Hoosier men 15th nationally and second in the Big Ten only behind powerhouse Wisconsin.
The unranked Hoosier women’s squad has fewer expectations nationally. The team is focused on developing as quickly as possible to compete in the Big Ten and at the national stage for a second straight season. However, with less speed at the top of the Hoosiers’ lineup, they will need depth to be a top team.
“Our depth will be better [this year]," Helmer said. "We may not be quite as good as at the front, but the depth becomes the most important thing at championship time.”
Building that depth starts Friday in the Miami Opener. While Helmer will rest most of the Hoosiers’ top runners, the depth the Hoosier women need to build, such as talented true freshman Mikaela Ramirez, will get their first test at real competition. While the meet results will not factor into the year-end competitions, Coach Helmer said he is excited to see how his Hoosiers will react when the intensity of a real race picks up.
The IU cross-country team is becoming a program that can compete against the elite of the Big Ten and the nation. With a talented and experienced men’s squad and a young but deep women’s team, the 2019 season could continue to help push the program forward.
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