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The Indiana Daily Student

sports cross-country

Indiana cross country looking to replicate historic success as it enters new era

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Following an illustrious career achieving nearly every accolade imaginable, track and field and cross country director and head coach Ron Helmer decided to call it quits. After 16 years under Helmer’s direction, Indiana cross country will look to fill his void and replicate the success it accomplished with Helmer. 

Helmer’s final season ended with success, as it often did in his career. Last year, three Indiana runners competed in the NCAA Cross Country Championships — then-graduate student Sarah Schmitt, then-junior Mariah Wehrle and then-junior Gabriel Sanchez.  

Helmer concluded his career with nearly 50 years of experience coaching, including 24 years as a director and head coach, spending eight years in the position at Georgetown University prior to Indiana. He produced 416 All-Americans, 56 Big Ten champions, eight national champions and was a four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year. He also led 28 different teams to a top-10 season. 

Replacing a coach of Helmer’s caliber was a tall task, but Indiana found one of the most prestigious candidates possible. Eric Gaines takes over at the helm, and the 2016 Men’s National Cross Country Coach of the Year and national championship-winner, then at Northern Arizona University, has the talent to carry on Helmer’s legacy early in his tenure. 

However, along with Helmer, the 2023 Hoosiers will have to replace the productivity of several runners. Most notably gone are Schmitt, who graduated, and Sanchez, who transferred to the University of Tennessee.  

Now-senior Wehrle is the most significant returner to an Indiana women’s team ranked No. 7 in the Great Lakes preseason regional poll. Her 6K time of 20:19.5 in last season’s Great Lakes Regional earned her regional honors, and she owns the fastest 6K time of all returnees. 

Other important returning Hoosiers include senior Phoebe Bridges, who touts a 6K career-best of 20:52.6, sophomore Katelyn Winton, with a career-best of 21:16.6 and sophomore Claire Overfelt, who owns a personal-best of 20:56.3.  

The Hoosiers will experience a large amount of roster turnover, losing eight graduating seniors from last season’s squad and replacing them with seven freshmen and a graduate transfer. With just four upperclassmen, a youthful Indiana team will need its experienced veterans to pave the way. 

The men’s team, ranked No. 8 in the Great Lakes preseason regional poll, has several key returners. Most notable are graduate Austin Haskett, who owns a career-best 24:08.6 8K time, and sophomore Abe Eckman, whose 8K best stands at 24:35.9.  

Replacing Sanchez is the big test for the men’s team, and it will likely require a committee rather than one individual. The Hoosiers will need a pack of high finishers like Haskett and Eckman to compete at a top level. 

Indiana already kicked its season off, competing at the Redhawk Rumble 5K on Sept. 1. The women’s team finished first against the University of Miami (OH) and University of Cincinnati while the men’s team finished second against the same teams. 

Indiana has three remaining regular season meets scheduled before the postseason. The Hoosiers will travel to Terre Haute for the John McNichols Invitational on Sept. 16, to Chicago to compete against Loyola University Chicago on Sept. 29 and to College Station, Texas, for the Arturo Barrios Invitational on Oct. 13.  

Madison, Wisconsin, will host the Big Ten Championships on Oct. 27 and the NCAA Great Lakes Regional on Nov. 10. If any Hoosiers qualify, the NCAA Championships will be held in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Nov. 18.

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