The new Sam Bell Cross Country Course may not have the history of the old course, but the Hoosiers are happy to once again have a place they can call home.
Indiana’s men’s and women’s cross country teams last hosted a meet nearly four years ago. The 2017 Sam Bell Invitational was the final competition held on the old Indiana Championship Cross Country Course.
The new $540,000 course sits on 40-acres just east of the new IU Health Bloomington Facility and Pfau Golf Course. Since it’s comprised of 1-, 2- and 3-kilometer loops, the course can accommodate races of any standard competition distance.
The name of the new course honors Sam Bell, a former cross country and track and field coach at Indiana. Bell served as head coach for 29 seasons and led the teams to five Big Ten team cross country championships and four NCAA individual cross country championships.
Senior Ben Veatch is one of the few members of the current squad who competed on the old course. He said the new course is less spread out because of its loops and has more rolling hills than its predecessor.
“There's pretty much no flat sections of this course,” Veatch said. “So I think the new course will be more difficult and a little harder to find a rhythm on. But that’s cross country.”
The course’s changes in elevation will help prepare Indiana for meets later in the season when it travels to similarly hilly courses, Veatch said. He said training on the course will help the team by creating a mentality of toughness.
Veatch also expressed his admiration for the old course and its past. Throughout its history, the course held many notable competitions, including four NCAA Championships, four Great Lakes Regional Championships and five Big Ten Championships.
Head coach Ron Helmer said he doesn’t think the new course gives the team a competitive edge over their opponents who have never seen the course before.
“I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a home-course advantage,” Helmer said. “I don’t ever feel like when we go someplace else that somebody has the advantage because they might know their course better than we do.”
Helmer said the biggest impact the new course will have is the fact that the team has a home course again. For a couple of years while the new course was being built, the team had to travel to the west side of town to practice and train — a round trip travel time of an hour.
“We can workout on it, we can have a couple home meets and it’s a really good course,” Helmer said. “It’s something we can be proud of and our kids are excited about it.”
Indiana’s cross country teams began their seasons on Sept. 4 in the Indiana Open against Miami University in Bloomington. The women’s team won with a score of 18, while the men scored 31 but lost to Miami’s 27. The teams will also run in the Hoosier Invitational, which takes place Nov. 5.
The men’s team begins the season ranked No. 22 in the nation after finishing 26th in the NCAA Championships last season. The No. 16 ranked women’s team finished 19th in the NCAA Championships last season.