When ISU women's cross-country coach Andrea Grove-McDonough talked about the upcoming season in early September, she spent a brief moment looking at the team's future.
She has never shied away from speaking highly of her group, but she has known since the beginning that this year's NCAA Cross-Country Championship is New Mexico's to lose.
"New Mexico may be the best team I've ever seen in 10 years kind of paying attention," Grove-McDonough said at the beginning of the year. "They're phenomenal. [They have] potentially four individuals, not just All-Americans, in the top 10 at [NCAAs]. That is an unbeatable team on paper. There's not much I can do to beat that unless they beat themselves."
She wasn't mistaken.
New Mexico landed five runners inside the top 10 Friday at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, which included more than 240 runners and 20 of the top 25 ranked teams in the country. The New Mexico Lobos' 32-team score beat the previous meet record of 78 points set by Duke in 2009.
For Iowa State, the meet was a learning experience. The Cyclones' top five runners had less than 20 meets of experience entering this season.
Grove-McDonough refers to the runners who ran Friday as warriors. Her squad ran fearlessly at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational without two of its All-Americans from last season to a seventh-place performance among a field loaded with many of the best distance runners in the country.
Iowa State didn't quite compete at the high level it has become so accustomed to in recent years under Grove-McDonough, but no team as young as Iowa State is immune to growing pains.
None of the ISU runners cracked the top 20, but freshman Becky Straw, a team leader, narrowly snuck into the top 100 with a 98th-place performance.
Grove-McDonough's message to Straw after the meet was clear and simple: "Great athletes never lose. They either win or they learn."
The entire team learned Friday. Not only will the invite benefit Iowa State for the remainder of this season but also for next year when the team has a chance to return this entire group along with 2014 All-Americans Crystal Nelson and Bethanie Brown.
"I bring back this entire team next year," Grove-McDonough said. "All five of them — that's an impressive group. That's a group in every third year, I'd like to think every other year, is going to have a real, real shot at winning a national title.
"Again, that's banking on those girls deciding they want to come back. It's banking on none of them being hurt."
Nelson; Brown; Perez Rotich, who finished 23rd at the Wisconsin invite; Erin Hooker, who finished 24th at Wisconsin; and Straw all have at least one year of cross-country eligibility remaining.
Before looking too far into the future though, the Cyclones are focused on the remainder of this season.
"We're not feeling the pressure," Hooker said. "We're just kind of having fun and seeing where we can end up at Nationals."