A connection between old and new. A farewell and an announcement. For IU cross-country, it was a season that ended historically. Both men and women exhibited a program on the rise in different paths.
The Hoosiers’ season concluded in Terre Haute, Indiana, where both men’s and women’s teams raced for the National Championship. The IU women as a team finished 19th while the men were 13th. It was the second time in program history, along with last year, that both teams had top 20 performances.
The IU men were led by Kyle Mau all season long. The senior's adieu was sweet as he won his first All-American honor by placing 12th at the national championships. The Hudson, Ohio, native took off his cream and crimson jersey one last time as the highest male finish in head coach Ron Helmer’s 13 years in charge of the program.
“Kyle deserves everything he gets,” Helmer said. “He worked hard every day. He does not waste a workout or an opportunity to race.”
Mau led a team that steadily rose in the rankings throughout the season. However, the year was one that fell just short of historic potential.
The Hoosiers were second at the Big Ten Championships, fourth but just eight points behind first at the Great Lakes Regionals and three spots short of their goal of a top 10 finish at the National Championships.
In the end, the season will be remembered for Mau’s honor. The senior had an up and down year and was consistently finishing behind junior Ben Veatch in the second half of the season. Yet on the biggest stage that did not matter.
“It’s such an honor,” Mau said. “It was one of my goals coming into today, so being able to do that and end my cross-country career with this was really huge.”
The Hoosiers appear to have a bright future as well. Five of their seven runners return next year. The Hoosiers should also have depth with quality runners being left home from the postseason.
Furthermore, Mau is someone that can be a benchmark for future Hoosier success combining talent and hard work.
“I hope he serves as an example and we have some other high talent kids that say I need to model my training and efforts after Kyle because he proves it works,” Helmer said.
While Mau was expected to have a season among the elite of the cross-country world there was nobody on the IU women’s side expected to become an All-American. Sophomore Bailey Hertenstein changed that quickly.
After winning the Commodore Classic and being named National Athlete of the Week in September, the Florida native never wavered from the spotlight. Including a second place finish at the Big Ten Championships, Hertenstein finished her year with an All-American honor by placing 31st at the National Championships.
The breakout moment for the rest of the IU women waited three months. After narrowly qualifying for the National Championships, the Hoosiers ran their best race of the year to a 19th place finish.
The Hoosiers were by far the youngest team in Terre Haute running five freshmen, only one other school ran more than two freshmen. After a year of struggling to put everything together, the National Championships brought out the best in the young Hoosiers.
“They did not give up and never panicked. I think we have the right group of girls,” Helmer said. “They understand what it takes to be able to be competitive at this level which is extraordinarily difficult, and they are excited for that challenge.”
The Hoosiers beat Big Ten foes Illinois and Ohio State — two teams IU had not beat all year long. The team had struggled to run strategically in meets but at the national championships the Hoosier back pack finally ran together as a team.
IU was just eighth at Big Ten Championships yet 19th at the National Championships. The resilience of the Hoosier women was Helmer’s biggest takeaway from the 2019 season.
“That group of five freshmen and a sophomore finding out how to be one of the top 20 teams in the country when five of them had never been in the (national championship) meet before,” Helmer said.
The IU women will be Big Ten favorites in a few seasons with six of the seven runners all eligible for at least two more years.
Two All-Americans and two top 20 finishes were historic for IU cross-country. While they were a coronation of a memorable season and the continued rise of Hoosier cross-country as one of their stronger programs in the country, it is not the results that made the team special.
“It’s the team and going out with this really special group that you surround yourself with every day and to have the privilege to race with them every day,” Mau said. “Just being part of that team and that camaraderie is something that is irreplaceable.”