IU cross-country will compete in its third-straight NCAA Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Monday, beginning with the women’s 6K race and concluding with the men’s 10K race.
The men and women, both ranked No. 17 in the country, learned they earned a bid to the event during last Sunday’s selection show.
The NCAA’s selection committee would invite teams to nationals based on a large body of work in a normal year, but most teams have competed in just one race this season. For IU it was the Big Ten Championships, where the men finished second and the women fourth.
Head coach Ron Helmer expects the team to be ready for nationals, despite the fact that the Big Ten Championships were more than one month ago.
“I think they were definitely excited but we had a pretty good sense after our results in the Big Ten cross country meet we would be selected,” Helmer said. “We expect to be in the meet, so getting in doesn’t carry as much emotion as not getting in would carry disappointment.”
The men’s team is confident after the runner-up finish at the Big Ten Championships, Helmer said. They saw five runners finish in the top 15 of that race, led by fifth-year senior Ben Veatch placing eighth.
Veatch, along with junior Arjun Jha, will compete in both the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, over the weekend before joining the rest of the team in Stillwater on Sunday.
The team has five All-Big Ten Second team honorees, a deep and talented group that expects to compete for the title in Stillwater.
“We've only run one cross-country meet, we’re coming off a tough Big Ten indoor meet and two guys will race in the NCAA indoor championships Friday before the cross-country nationals Monday,” Helmer said. “But we tend to exceed our rankings going into national meets, and that’s what we’re looking to do here.”
For the women, a fourth-place finish gives the young team excitement and hopes that they can replicate it on the big stage, Helmer said. The team’s fourth-place finish in this year’s Big Ten Championships is tied for the highest finish at the event for the women since 2005.
The team has a dynamic duo leading the way with junior All-American Bailey Hertenstein, who finished second at the Big Tens, and junior Sarah Schmitt, who grabbed tenth place. Hertenstein was named to the All-Big Ten First team with Schmitt getting second-team honors.
“I feel good about the group and I think they feel good about their preparation, so we’re very excited to see how things turn out given this unique set of challenges,” Helmer said.
Both teams will be competing in a field of 31 teams, with three other Big Ten teams on the men’s side and four conference opponents for the women.
The races will be broadcast on ESPNU, with the women’s race beginning at 12:50 p.m. and the men’s competition to follow.