Every bead of sweat, every brutal workout and every previous meet has all led to this. IU cross-country sends its men’s and women’s teams to the NCAA National Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana on Saturday.
IU’s experience will play a big role in its potential success Saturday. Both the Hoosier men and women have competed in one of the best conferences in the nation in the Big Ten and one of the most competitive regions in the Great Lakes Region.
Many of the Hoosiers will also know the course on the campus of Indiana State University. A few runners have already run a meet there earlier this year and others have run on the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross-Country course in past years, including in high school.
The IU men will conclude a season-long quest to prove to the nation that they belong with the elite. There is no bigger level than at the national championships. However, the Hoosiers' biggest problem may be making too much of the moment.
“You get in a lot of trouble when you try to change things for the national meet because it takes you out of what you are good and comfortable with,” IU head coach Ron Helmer said. “A lot of teams will not deal with the national meet well at all, and we do not want to be one of them.”
IU has been peaking at the right time especially at the front with senior Kyle Mau, junior Ben Veatch and sophomore Arjun Jha. All three should be racing for All-American honors. A top 40 finish out of the 255 runners will garner this prestigious honor.
However, as a team the No.16 Hoosiers are gunning for a Top 10 finish. The IU men have not reached those lofty heights since 2011.
“We just want to prove that we are one of the nation’s best in cross-country,” All-Region senior Bryce Millar said. “We have the depth to do it and just show them we have the back and the frontrunners that can be high placers in the national meet.”
The IU women will also have plenty to prove on Saturday. The Hoosiers were one of the last teams to qualify for the NCAA Championships. This is the third straight year the Hoosier women will race in the National Championships which ties a program record.
This achievement did not come without controversy. The No. 26 Hoosiers placed eighth at the Big Ten Championships and sixth at the Great Lakes Regionals warranting some to be surprised to see IU selected for Terre Haute. This will only add fuel to the cream and crimsons’ fire.
“We took the underdog mentality throughout the season and especially in the regional meet,” freshman Sarah Schmitt said. “We are out there to prove that we deserve to be at nationals.”
Led by all-region Schmitt and sophomore Bailey Hertenstein, who will compete to be an All-American, IU will have a chance to finish a remarkable season. The Hoosiers will run with five freshmen at the national championships.
The lack of experience has been a challenge for IU all season, but the team has become battle tested enough that they will run for more than the future.
“We do not want to go there just for the experience,” Helmer said. “We want to go there to execute a really good race plan, stay within ourselves, be who we are and come out of there feeling like we had a great effort and we will have beaten some good teams.”
IU will be one of just 16 teams with both its men’s and women’s teams at the NCAA National Championships. As the cross-country season climaxes with a final championship race the Hoosiers have already proved themselves as one of the elite programs in the country.