IU’s cross country teams open their 2021 seasons against Miami University on Saturday in the Indiana Open in Bloomington. The women’s race will start at 9:20 a.m. and the men’s race will start at 10:10 a.m. This will be the Hoosiers’ first home meet since 2017.
The men’s team will go into the matchup ranked No. 22 nationally and No. 5 in the Great Lakes Region in the preseason Coaches’ Poll. They finished 26th in last season’s NCAA Championships. The women’s team, coming off a 19th place finish in the NCAA Championships, is ranked No. 16 nationally and No. 3 in its region.
Miami will enter the contest with its men’s team ranked No. 9 and its women’s team ranked No. 11 in the Great Lakes Region. Neither team received votes in the national poll.
Ron Helmer, who is in his 14th season as IU’s head coach, said he does not plan on running everybody this weekend to give less experienced runners the opportunity to compete and develop.
“It gives some of them a chance to find their way to the front of the pack when otherwise they might have deferred to somebody else,” Helmer said. “I’m looking for breakout races out of some people who maybe otherwise wouldn’t have seen themself at the front.”
Helmer said he is looking forward to seeing who on the women’s team is able to distance themselves from the others this weekend. Six or seven different runners could end up leading the women’s race, Helmer said, and he is curious to see which one of them will win it.
On the men’s side, Helmer said he is particularly excited to see what sophomore Gabriel Sanchez is able to do this weekend. Sanchez was named the 2019-20 Gatorade Indiana Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year and was the 2019 Indiana state champion as a high school senior but did not compete in a meet last season.
Senior Ben Veatch finished eighth in the Big Ten Championships last season and earned an All-Big Ten Second Team selection. Veatch said he is excited to see what the team can do on Saturday.
“We have a lot of guys that are in their third or fourth years on the team now, but they still don’t have too much racing experience with all the COVID,” Veatch said. “So it's been great to see them grow up a lot in training and get better.”
Helmer said he wants to see a competitive effort out of the freshmen as they transition from the high school to college level. The biggest challenge for them, Helmer said, will be staying engaged throughout the race.
“Anybody that’s here was typically at the front or towards the front and all of a sudden, in this environment, they’re not going to be,” Helmer said. “They’re going to have people getting away from them and they’re just not used to that.”
Most of the incoming freshmen will compete Saturday, Helmer said, but all of them will run unattached from IU. Running unattached allows them to retain a year of eligibility as they continue to improve.
“We don’t want to use a year of eligibility if they’re not going to have a chance to compete for spots on the championship teams,” Helmer said. “It doesn’t mean they’re coming back for a fifth year, but we’ll have that option if they develop like a lot of people do.”
IU’s freshman class includes Brenner Hannah and Audrey Mendrys on the women’s team, and Andrew Anderson, Jaylen Castillo, Travis Hickner, Camden Marshall and Carlos Vilches Ortiz on the men’s team.