Indiana cross country started its season with promising results as two Indiana runners finished in the top three at the Redhawk Rumble on Sept. 3 in Oxford, Ohio. Fourteen Indiana runners competed in the competition that included host Miami University and the University of Cincinnati.
The Hoosiers placed third overall in the men’s 8K race with a standout performance from junior Gabriel Sanchez. He finished first in the event with a time of 24:53.2.
In the women’s 5K race, Indiana placed second overall with a third-place finish from junior Phoebe Bates. Bates ran a time of 17:47.1 with senior Alyssa Skorge finishing in fifth with a time of 17:56.5.
The Redhawk Rumble served as a warm-up for the new season, so Indiana chose not to have their best possible squad compete, Sanchez said.
“It’s a meet of not necessarily 100% importance, but one where we can go out there and figure things out early on in the season,” Sanchez said. “I think for the guys that went and raced out there, it was a good indicator to see where we’re at in the season.”
After the merging of two seasons into one year in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Hoosiers return to a normal schedule for the 2022 season. The pandemic caused many athletes who were in their final season to have one more year of eligibility, but after last season concluded, the older athletes reached the end of their eligibility and can no longer compete. This is something that Sanchez feels will help younger athletes this season.
“I think it’ll even out the playing field,” he said. “Definitely it’s a confidence booster for us younger guys because we don’t have to compete with guys who should already be pro or have qualified for the Olympics.”
Last season, the Hoosiers finished fourth in men’s and fifth in women’s in the Big Ten Cross Country Championships. They enter the 2022 season with many new faces making their debuts for the team, as well as some familiar faces leading the team.
Freshmen Claire Overfelt, Abe Eckman and Cole Raymond joined sophomores Brenner Hanna, Audrey Mendrys and Jaylen Castillo in making their collegiate debuts at the Redhawk Rumble.
Returning runners such as Sanchez, last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and graduate student Sarah Schmitt will help lead this year’s men’s and women’s teams respectively into the new season. The two competed in the Big Ten Championships last season with Sanchez finishing 45th in the men’s event and Schmitt finishing 14th in the women’s event.
The 2022 season will be a new start for some, but the last season for head coach Ron Helmer as he plans on retiring after this year. Helmer began his tenure as head coach for Indiana in 2007, when he led his first team to an NCAA appearance where they finished 28th overall. Since then, he has coached 52 Big Ten champions and six NCAA champions for Indiana.
The emotions surrounding his departure after 53 years of experience in the sport have not made this year different from any other, Helmer said. He is still committed to getting the most out of his athletes and coaching them to be the best they can be, he said.
“Right now, coming to practice is a lot of fun,” he said. “Because they all show up ready to work and ready to do their job, and they’re having a good time with it.”
Helmer retiring has not distracted the athletes either, as the Hoosiers are just as focused on the work ahead as before. If anything, it serves as more motivation for athletes such as Sanchez to do their best.
“I think you can see it a little bit in the training that we’re putting in,” he said. “Out of respect for this man who’s been out here forever, we’re all doing it. We’re all here mostly because of him. We came out and wanted to be coached by him.”
The Hoosiers will continue their season at 10 a.m. on Sept. 16 at the Coaching Tree Invitational on the IU Cross Country Course.