It’s that time of year again.
For the Iowa State cross country teams, the beginning of September is the start of a journey to reach the National Championship — which this year is being held at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana.
For this year’s iteration of Cyclone runners, the season also presents a chance to preserve some hardware, as both the Men’s and Women’s teams are two-time defending Big 12 and NCAA Midwest Regional Champions, setting a target on their backs as one of the favorites to win it all on November 23rd.
The women’s team was ranked No. 17 in the USTFCCCA Preseason National Poll released on August 26th. The Cyclones are set to take on their first test of the season at the annual Hawkeye Invitational held at the Ashton Cross Country Course in Iowa City Friday, with racetime set to begin at 6 p.m.
Coach Amy Rudolph’s team brings back a great load of experience and talent, led by junior Callie Logue, last year’s Midwest Regional and Big 12 individual champion.
Senior Abby Caldwell, who represented the Cardinal and Gold at every meet last year, is looking to replicate the success of 2018, along with juniors Karly Ackley and Larkin Chapman, who as a trio look to provide key leadership throughout the season.
Ackley and Chapman plan to hit the ground running — quite literally — on Friday as both missed time in the 2018 track and field season for injury and being redshirted respectively, forging a trail for the Cyclones to another NCAA Championship.
Besides the Hawkeye Invitational, the women’s team will travel to South Bend, Indiana for the Joe Piane Invitational Oct. 4th and the prestigious Nuttycombe Invitational in Madison, Wisconsin, on Oct. 18th before the Big 12 Championships and Midwest Regionals in November.
On the men’s side, coach Martin Smith and company carry high expectations heading into the season, with the team currently at the No. 5 rank in the Preseason USTFCCCA Poll behind Colorado, Washington, BYU and defending champs Northern Arizona.
Despite the competition, the Cyclones will attempt to run to another championship led by senior Edwin Kurgat, who was recently named the 2018-19 Gary Thompson Male Athlete of the Year.
The Eldoret, Kenya, native is looking to close an already all-time great career for the Cardinal and Gold, hauling into this season the accolades of defending Big 12 and Midwest Regional individual champion, along with a 3rd place finish at the NCAA Championships and All-American honors in 2018.
Along with Kurgat, the Cyclones are also returning a multitude of experienced runners who look to pace the rest of the team. Junior runner Thomas Pollard was also named co-captain along with Kurgat, with coach Smith saying at the announcement meeting on August 20th that “both young men are seasoned veterans and possess vital experience at the national level."
"Those attributes will translate into having a player-coach on the course,” Smith said at the event.
All-Big 12 runners Milo Greder and Chad Johnson — a junior and sophomore respectively — look to pace the Cyclones to key finishing spots this season as well, both looking to increase their experience from running two meets last year apiece.
Iowa State has added some key transfers as well: Addison Dehaven from Boise State, a two-time All-American and big race runner; Mitchell Day from Wake Forest, one of the best course runners in the ACC in 2018; and Florida A&M Rattler David Too, who won the 2017 MEAC Conference Meet. Each transfer will hope to score key points for the Cyclones during the course of the season.
The men’s team, who are also the two-time defending Big 12 and Midwest Regional champions, open their season on September 21st in Terre Haute, Indiana, the site of this year’s national championships, at the John McNichols Invitational. Their only other meet before the post season is the Nuttycombe Invitational in Madison, Wisconsin, before they go to the Big 12 Championships in Waco, Texas and the Midwest Regional Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
While November is still a long way out, this year’s cross country teams are trying to get the season off to a fast start.