As the wind picks up and temperatures continue their downhill slide, the changing of the seasons also brings with it a change of season for the Iowa State men's cross country team.
This Saturday marks the start of the postseason for the Cyclones with the Big 12 Conference meet in Round Rock, Texas.
"Now there's no margin for error," said assistant coach Jeremy Sudbury over the phone Tuesday. "This is the march toward nationals, and it starts with the Big 12s."
Sudbury explained that the regular season was the opportunity to work the kinks out, and now there's more of a sense of urgency.
"We were very disappointed after the Wisconsin meet," Sudbury said. "We didn't go in prepared to race."
Since the Nuttycombe Invite on Oct. 13, the coaches have stressed the fact that it's "up to the guys now." The training part of the season is, for the most part, over. The coaches have prepared them, now the team has to take ownership and finish.
Teams at the conference meet are allowed to run 10 men instead of the standard seven that will run at regionals and potentially nationals. Sudbury explained that this is their opportunity to put their best foot forward and run their top 10 guys.
The Cyclones will certainly have their work cut out for them. Oklahoma State, the favorites to take the team win again this year, has won the last nine straight conference titles on the men's side.
The women's race is another story.
The Iowa State women have won the conference title every year since 2011 except for 2015, when Oklahoma State swept the men's and women's races.
"[The girls] have figured out how to be successful," Sudbury said. "Coach McDonough's done a great job."
The men's side would like to add to that legacy, but their focus going into the meet is holding steady on what they've been emphasizing all year; competing hard and running as a team.
Cross country is unique in the fact that, though the top finishers for a team are important, it's truly the fourth or fifth man that can make or break a meet for a team.
The objective at a cross country meet is to have the lowest combined team score. Points are awarded based on individual finishing place, and added up to get the team score. The better you place, the fewer points you earn.
"Cross country is unique in that success is predicated on the fourth or fifth man," Sudbury said. "Build your fifth man, help him finish better, and you'll get a lower score."
Sudbury went on to explain that a big part of head coach Martin Smith's philosophy is sacrificing individual performance to achieve a better team score.
A team may have a real top notch guy, but if the group as a whole finishes closer together, the point total will average lower. Rather than having your top man finish second and your fifth man finish in 30th, they finish seventh and 15th.
Do the math. The team with the closely clumped finishers will average a lower score.
"Time is out the window," Sudbury said. "It's all about how many guys you can pass."
The Cyclones head to Round Rock, Texas, for the conference meet this Saturday, and host the Midwest Regional Qualifier on their home course Nov. 10.