On her biggest stage yet, IU sophomore Bailey Hertenstein raised her hands in the air as she crossed the line after her latest triumph — a second place finish in the Big Ten Championships.
Hertenstein led the IU women, who finished eighth out of the 14 Big Ten teams in Columbus, Ohio. The Hoosier men just missed out on their first Big Ten Championship since 2013, finishing 2nd behind Wisconsin. Seniors Ben Veatch placed 4th and Kyle Mau 6th to lead the Hoosier men on the Ohio State cross-country course.
Hertenstein was once again a big storyline for Hoosier running. After three top 20 finishes in some of the biggest meets in the country earlier this season, Hertenstein dealt with the pressure of a smaller group of elite runners.
“I was honestly shocked because I had worked myself up so much beforehand,” Hertenstein said. “I found myself being very relaxed and calm at a pace that was not overwhelming; it just felt like a normal race.”
The Florida native ran just as she has all season — quickly getting out to the front of the pack and staying there until the sprint finish. Only Alicia Monson, a senior from Wisconsin and who was 4th at the National Championships last year, out-kicked Hertenstein by 12 seconds.
“Today’s race showed me I'm on the right path,” Hertenstein said. “If I trust in my team and coaches, anything is possible.”
She was not the only Hoosier runner to prove her worth on a big stage. Redshirt freshman Sarah Schmitt followed Hertenstein for much of the race and finished 12th.
Schmitt, who has dealt with injuries, falling in races and being in the shadow of Hertenstein, had her aggressive breakout race, finishing right behind the top pack. In her first Big Ten Championship race she was named to the second team All-Big Ten.
The rest of the Hoosiers provided fewer positives as an eighth place finish by the No. 24 team in the country may have cost them an invitation to the NCAA National Championships in three weeks.
Sophomore Jenna Barker and Freshman Abby Green were 51st and 53rd to be third and fourth respectively for IU. Hoosier head coach Ron Helmer was more disappointed with the final five runners for IU that continued a season trend of being scattered and disconnected.
“They’re good enough; they just need to learn how to handle this better like Bailey and Sarah have done,” Helmer said. “The gamers are gamers and when the lights go on some people give their best and some people struggle with it.”
The Hoosier men delivered a stronger performance up and down their lineup, but it was not enough to hoist the Big Ten trophy.
IU’s game plan was to run patiently, and it was executed to perfection. With Mau and Veatch at the front to sophomore Arjun Jha and senior Bryce Millar, the Hoosers ran calmly and slowly, working their way through a tight pack over the course of the 8K race.
“I don't think (finishing second) had anything to do with tactic or positioning but the fact that we beat two really good teams in Purdue and Michigan, and Wisconsin was a little better than we were,” Helmer said. “I think the better team won today.”
The No. 13 Hoosiers defeated rival Purdue, a team they had not beaten in two previous meets this season. The Boilers finished 4th, and the difference may have been in the Hoosiers' different gameplan starting with Arjun Jha.
The native of Worthington, Ohio, only about 15 minutes away from Ohio State’s campus, epitomized the Hoosiers' patient approach. The sophomore sat at 70th at the 3K mark but finished 12th to be on the All-Big Ten second team.
The Hoosiers also flexed their muscles as a top-10 team with speed atop their lineup. Veatch worked his way to the top pack near the halfway point of the race after letting others do the hard work of leading the race. He burst through a pack of runners down the stretch to finish fourth in his first time as the top Hoosier this season
“I trust my legs,” Veatch sais. “I'm one of the fastest guys on the track, and I used that track speed at the end.”
While IU finished 14 points behind the defending Wisconsin, it was an overwhelming performance from the reigning champions who defended its conference title with its first four runners in the top 15. Nonetheless, the championship drought continues for IU cross-country.
“We have had way too many second places at Big Ten Championships, which is disappointing for the program,” Helmer said. “But we are more consistent than anybody if you look at cross-country and indoor and outdoor track, so that’s a positive thing.”
The Big Ten Championships were the biggest meet of IU’s seasons, but two more meets remain to accomplish its goals set at the beginning of what has been a long season of training.
“We executed really well; it was a step in the right direction,” Veatch said. “We know there is more, and we are hungry and excited.”