The pace was fast out of the gate.
Sub five-minute mile, fast.
But the Iowa State men's cross country team settled in to wait.
In fact, the NCAA Cross Country National Championship race for the men's distance squad looked a whole lot like their regional qualifier meet last Friday, in that they got behind early before slowly starting to chip away.
After the first two kilometers, the Cyclones were in 21st as a team. But in a race ten kilometers long, a lot can change in the last 2 kilometers.
The Cyclones closed out their 2017 cross country season Saturday at the NCAA National Championships at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville, Kentucky.
The team actually closed out their season a few hours earlier than originally planned.
Due to recent weather patterns in the Louisville area and a forecast calling for storms, the race times for the men and women were bumped up two hours and forty-five minutes, to 8 and 9 a.m. Saturday morning.
The Iowa State men's team rolled with the punches, and, despite 20 mph winds with gusts of up to 40 mph, the 13th ranked Cyclones steadily threaded their way through the race to a seventh place team finish.
This marks the first top ten finish for the men's cross country program since they won the national title in 1994.
Men's assistant coach Jeremy Sudbury described the race in a phone interview with the Daily, Saturday night as the team returned to campus from Kentucky.
"The guys ran well, and they ran tough," Sudbury said. "NAU (Northern Arizona University) took it out crazy fast early on. The guys waited and laid off that early pace. All the guys just kept climbing."
Northern Arizona repeated as the team champions on the men's side, and New Mexico took the win for the women.
True sophomore for the Cyclones, Andrew Jordan, was the top finisher for the men, placing 15th individually, and earning All-American honors.
"Andrew [Jordan] works hard, and has really bought into the team and the value of developing," Sudbury said. "Now he's seeing all the hard work coming to fruition."
Sophomore Stanley Langat finished second for Iowa State in 53rd place, followed by junior Dan Curts in 68th.
Perhaps the best part for this cross country squad?
They return every runner next year.
Though the Cyclones had a rocky regular season, missing a meet, dealing with injury and illness, and some inconsistent performances, they pulled together for a hot postseason streak, ending by outrunning their team seed at the national championships.
"They stuck the course after [Wisconsin]," Sudbury said, referring to the men's disappointing performance at the Wisconsin Nuttycombe Invitational that marked the end of the regular season.
"[Nuttycombe] was a defining moment, and the guys made up their mind that they were going to fight no matter what came at them," Sudbury said.
Sudbury went on to discuss how one of their goals at the beginning of the season was to build a program that, once again, had presence on the national stage and was a top-ten team.
After finishing 16th at nationals in 2016, the team had seen every man return but one, and now all of the top seven runners will be back next fall, along with a number of redshirt freshman and a recruiting class Sudbury said they were "very excited about."
Sudbury said they were certainly going to enjoy this moment, but this was also good for the future, and that it will soon be time to get ready for track season.
"As we learned this season, it doesn't matter how you look on paper," Sudbury said. "They put it together when it counted the most. Now we have to continue building what we have. Hopefully this is just the beginning."
Women's Cross Country
As cloudy skies settled in Louisville, Kentucky, the Cyclones started their title hunt for the day. The first Cyclone to pass the finish line in 45th place was junior Anne Frisbie, with a time of 20:15.53. The next two finishers for Iowa State were freshmen Cailie Logue and Amanda Vestri, who finished 79th and 160th, with times of 20:33.33. and 21:10.21. The team rounded out the tournament with finishes from Evelyne Guay at 175, Karly Ackley at 189 , Megan Schott at 225 and Kelly Naumann at 235.
“The biggest thing that I do in every tournament is lead by example,” Frisbie said. “I strive to push myself, but to also push the team to run their best race.”
The team finished with a score of 508. Last year the team finished with a score of 608, so the improvement was there.
Coach Andrea Grove-McDonough stressed at the beginning of the season of how selfless this team is.
“This team has been the easiest to coach for sure,” Grove-McDonough said. “They are all leaders no matter the experience, the girls care more about the team’s success over their own which is amazing to have.”