IU sophomore Gabriel Sanchez couldn’t help but smile as he led the way down the final straightaway toward the finish line. Sanchez finished first in the men’s race of the Indiana Open, his first ever college cross country competition.
IU’s No. 22 men’s and No. 16 women’s cross country teams competed against Miami University Saturday in Bloomington. In the women’s 6K race, sophomore Mariah Wehrle led the way with a time of 18:02.15 and IU secured five of the top six finishers in the race to post a low score of 18, defeating Miami’s score of 38. In the men’s 8K race, Sanchez’s first-place finish with a time of 25:13.94 was not enough and IU’s score of 31 was narrowly defeated by Miami’s low score of 27.
Before the meet, head coach Ron Helmer had said Sanchez was poised for a breakout performance. As a high school senior in 2019, Sanchez was state champion and the Gatorade Boys Runner of the Year for Indiana, but because he contracted COVID-19, he was unable to compete in any meets last season.
Despite a Miami runner leading the way through most of the race, Sanchez kept his pace and waited to make his move. Sanchez knew staying patient would allow him to wait until the last lap to make his push.
“Luckily, he was kind of fading,” Sanchez said. “He was pushing pretty hard to stay in the lead so I saw that, took advantage of it and ended up catching him and then putting a bit of a gap on him myself.”
Sanchez said patience is something the team frequently works on in practice.
“Even in workouts we like to just keep it calm and relaxed when we’re at hard paces,” Sanchez said. “It’s just about staying controlled under those intense paces because if you blow up in your head and get too excited or too worried, the race will just blow up on you and it won’t be good.”
For the Hoosier men, junior Austin Haskett finished third while senior Keelan Grant took fifth by less than three-tenths of a second, thanks to a pass in the final hundred feet of the race. Senior Dustin Horter finished tenth and senior Aaron Bennett scored twelfth to round out the scoring for the Hoosiers.
Junior Gracie Sprankle finished second overall for the Hoosier women with a push in the final quarter-mile to pass Miami’s top runner. She said practicing on the course helped her be patient and know when to start her final sprint.
“When I was coming down the final hill, I was like ‘Okay, I’m getting close to the finish but I don’t want to go too soon,’” Sprankle said. “Once you get up the final hill, you still have a little ways to go, so I feel like if I didn’t know the course I would probably start going right after.”
After the third-place women’s Miami runner, senior Ana Barrott finished fourth, sophomore Lauryn Mick finished fifth and junior Mikaela Ramirez took sixth place for the Hoosiers.
The teams did not run each teammate to allow some of the less experienced runners on the team to gain some experience, Helmer said prior to the meet. The meet was the first at home for IU since 2017 and was the first-ever competition on the new Sam Bell Cross Country Course.
Four true freshmen runners made their debut Saturday, but they all ran unattached. By running unattached, they are able to compete and gain experience, but they will not use a year of eligibility or count towards IU’s score in competitions.
For the freshmen on the women’s side, Audrey Mendrys finished twelfth and Brenner Hanna finished fifteenth. Jaylen Castillo finished twelfth followed by Camden Marshall at thirteenth for the freshmen on the men’s team.
The next meet for IU will be on Oct. 1 when the men’s and women’s teams will travel to South Bend for the Joe Piane Invitational hosted by the University of Notre Dame.