The stage doesn’t get any bigger or brighter in college-level sports than having the chance to bring home a national title. The Cyclone men’s cross-country team will have that chance for the first time since 2009 on Saturday when it travels to Terre Haute, Indiana.
Assistant coach Jeremy Sudbury said the course is very wide because it's specifically designed to host the national meet. 32 teams will take to the course in hopes of being part of a national title team. The large field of runners shouldn’t prove to be much of a problem as the men faced a similar volume of runners at the meet in Wisconsin earlier this season.
The Cyclones have also gained confidence as the season has gone on, most recently finishing fourth in the NCAA Regional meet.
Season at a glance
The men's cross-country season started in Iowa City at the Hawkeye Early-Bird Invitational. The meet was seen as more of an exhibition and allowed the runners to get back in the flow and tune up their minds and bodies before their first true race.
The Cyclone men ended up finishing in first place, with Toby Hardwick finishing first overall. The invitational was also many Cyclones’ first race, including senior transfer Kevyn Hoyos.
The Cyclones then traveled to Minnesota, where they placed second in the Roy Griak Invitational. Hardwick had another successful meet, finishing 17th overall and first for the Cyclones.
“It’s a stepping stone as we look forward to the rest of the season,” Sudbury said after the meet.
Every meet posed its own challenge. For the next one in Wisconsin, the team focused more on the large field of runners.
Despite running against more than 200 other athletes, the men ended up in eighth place overall. There were 19 ranked teams, giving the Cyclones their first widespread competition of the season.
“Anytime you can beat any team that might be an auto bid for nationals is very important,” Sudbury said after the meet. “It puts less stress on us down the stretch.”
Big 12 Championship
The Cyclones got a brief break to prepare to take on conference rivals in the Big 12 Championship in late October. This was the first time they got the chance to compete against Oklahoma State, a team that had won multiple conference championships in recent years.
The Cowboys continued their reign, taking the title while Iowa State was left to finish runner-up.
Redshirt freshman Thomas Pollard finished first for the Cyclones. Hoyos, Andrew Jordan and Josef Andrews, also were given Big 12 honors.
With a nationals bid on their doorstep, the Cyclones knew they still had to run a good meet to qualify. They did just that by finishing in fourth place in Iowa City. Pollard led the way, finishing in eighth overall. The most notable aspect of the meet wasn’t the result, but rather the components of the race.
Every meet before regionals was an 8-kilometer race, but regionals was a 10K race.
“The last two kilometers was where a lot of our guys made their final push,” Sudbury said.
For most of the team, this was their first 10k race, and for many it won’t be their last. The nationals meet will also be a 10k, and with one under its belt, the team feels more confident.
Though they didn't automatically qualify by finishing in fourth place, the Cyclones were selected as an early at-large bid to make nationals.
The final test for Iowa State will be the nationals meet in Indiana on Saturday. Despite receiving positive results throughout the season, nothing would compare to bringing a national title home to Ames.
“Goal one was getting to nationals, goal two is performing well,” Sudbury said.
It’s a new experience for most on the team, the lone exception being Daniel Curts.
“Curts ran in nationals as a true freshman, and though he didn’t do well, he has the experience,” Sudbury said.
Sudbury also noted that the Cyclones should be ready to go compete and execute their game plan. Once they get out on the course, they can focus on themselves and maximize their own race.
“It’s the last meet, so let’s make it the best,” Sudbury said.