ISU women's cross-country team finishes fourth at Hawkeye Early Bird Invitational

From left, ISU women's cross-country runners Jasmine Staebler, Erinn Stenman-Fahey, Gwynne Wright, Megan Schott and Grace Gibbons take a picture together after competing in the Hawkeye Early Bird Invitational on Friday at Ashton Cross-Country Course in Iowa City.

Iowa State women’s cross-country coach Andrea Grove-McDonough lived up to her promise of sending a different look for the Cyclones’ lineup in their season opener Friday at the Hawkeye Early Bird Invitational.

And redshirt junior distance runner Erin Hooker certainly wasn’t lying when she said this year’s women’s cross-country team is full of fight.

The only things that were missing Friday for the Cyclones were experience and eventually one of redshirt freshman Jasmine Staebler’s shoes.

All five of the runners who competed for Iowa State at the Hawkeye Early Bird Invitational made their collegiate cross-country debuts.

"It was a totally new experience for each one of them and they all handled it well," said volunteer assistant cross-coach Matt Valeriani.

While Grove-McDonough said before the season officially began that the runners who would compete at the meet probably would not run in November during the postseason, that doesn’t mean none of them have a chance to have an impact in future meets.

Four of the seven Iowa State runners who competed in last season’s Hawkeye Early Bird Invitational went on to compete for the Cyclones at the NCAA Championships following injuries to several of the women on the team.

The two performances that stood out the most from this year's meet were redshirt freshman Grace Gibbons’ second-place finish and Staebler’s seventh-place finish.

Grace Gibbons

Gibbons isn’t new to Iowa State competition after competing in 10 combined meets during the 2015-16 indoor track season and 2016 outdoor track season, but she got her first taste of collegiate cross-country action on Friday.

The redshirt freshman was impressive in her debut, fighting a tight battle to the finish line with Iowa's Tess Wildering, who nudged Gibbons by four-tenths of a second for first place. 

"I forgot what it felt like to run on cross-country course [during a race] because I haven't done it in two years, so it definitely felt a little new but it was fun," Gibbons said. "I felt like I could have responded a little faster and gotten [to the finish line first], but I'm happy with where I placed. It was a good first race."

Valeriani said Gibbons is expected to at least travel to Iowa State's next meet, the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 24 in Minneapolis and possibly the Wisconsin adidas Invitational in October as long she stays on the path she's on right now. 

Jasmine Staebler

Like Gibbons, Staebler has experience competing in collegiate track events, but she made her first appearance on the cross-country course in an ISU uniform on Friday in Iowa City.

Despite losing one of her shoes during the race, Staebler still managed to finish the race in seventh place.

The shoe issues are nothing new for the Staebler, who finished her 1,200-meter leg of the 2016 Big 12 Indoor Track and Field women’s distance medley relay with only one shoe.

"I think we might have to have a shoe-tying lesson with [Staebler], but we'll figure it out eventually," Valeriani said. 

Valeriani added that Staebler could be in the top-10 group that travels to meets for the Cyclones this season. 

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