Indiana Daily Student

Indiana cross country looks for continued improvement at John McNichols Invitational

<p>Sophomore Gabriel Sanchez leads in the final stretch of the 8K Sept. 4, 2021, on the IU Championship Course in Bloomington. Indiana will compete in the John McNichols Invitational on the morning of Sept. 18, 2021, in Terre Haute, Indiana. </p>

Sophomore Gabriel Sanchez leads in the final stretch of the 8K Sept. 4, 2021, on the IU Championship Course in Bloomington. Indiana will compete in the John McNichols Invitational on the morning of Sept. 18, 2021, in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Indiana men’s and women’s cross country will travel to Terre Haute, Indiana, for the John McNichols Invitational on Saturday. The men’s 8K race will begin at 9 a.m. followed by the women’s 5K race at 9:45 a.m.

Head coach Ron Helmer said he does not plan on having all of his runners participate in this meet. Like in the Indiana Open, Helmer will withhold his top three runners on both teams out of the race to give some of the other runners a chance to impress. 

“When they’re that old and that experienced, they really don’t need races to get ready to race — they’re ready to go,” Helmer said. “They’re going to be the ones carrying us down the road anyways.”

By letting runners race in meets they can compete in, Helmer said he hopes to see a good response from the athletes who might not normally have the opportunity to win races. 

In the Indiana Open, sophomore Gabriel Sanchez had a breakout race, finishing first overall. Helmer said he hopes another runner can have a similar performance this weekend.

The Indiana women’s team is ranked No. 18 in the country and No. 3 in the Great Lakes Region, while the men’s team sits at No. 22 in the nation and No. 5 in the region. Both teams will be the highest ranked among the competitors at the meet.

Helmer said he thinks rival Purdue is the only team capable of challenging Indiana on Saturday. Purdue’s men are ranked No. 6 in the Great Lakes Region and No. 30 nationally. The women are ranked No. 7 in the region and unranked in the national poll.

“I think that Purdue will probably line up the best they have,” Helmer said. “I’d like to beat them but if we don’t I’d like it to be really really close.”

Among participating Indiana runners, Helmer said he expects seniors Jake Gebhardt and Skylar Stidam to lead the way for the men’s team. Both were named second-team All-Big Ten last season.

On the women’s side, Helmer said he expects seniors Maddie Dalton and Jenna Barker to be leaders during the race. Dalton and Barker are competing to be among the top five runners on the team, Helmer said, and he wants to see more growth and patience out of them.

“I want to see them go into a race with more responsibility and handle it well,” Helmer said. “Physically, they’re prepared to do that — mentally and emotionally they will need to sync up.”

Dalton said she is excited and nervous to race in her first meet of the season. Despite being a senior, she has not had the opportunity to compete in many races due to the COVID-19 pandemic shortening the season. Dalton said she feels like a veteran on the team in practice, but that feeling vanishes when it’s time for a meet.

“When it comes to traveling to meets and giving girls advice about what we’re about to head into, sometimes I have to be like, ‘Honestly, I don’t know that much more than you do so we’re in this together,’” Dalton said.

Dalton will be on a familiar course this weekend since she has raced on the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana, twice before. She said she feels the experience will help her in the meet Saturday.

“I would consider it more of a home course than any other course I’ve ran on in cross country,” Dalton said. “Obviously, college running is still new to me, even as a senior, so being able to know the course is nice.”

Dalton said she hopes the team can work together to pull each other along throughout the race. She wants to get back into the feel of running a cross country race and build confidence going into future meets.

“I’m excited to just get some rust off and see what happens," Dalton said.

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