MADISON, Wisconsin — The Iowa State women's cross-country team has proven to be tougher to solve than the Gordian knot.
Only three meets into the season, the team has been ranked as high as No. 17 and as low as No. 26 in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCA) polls.
And Iowa State's 2015 ranking fluctuated from No. 1 in the USTFCCA preseason poll to No. 24 by the end of the season.
"We knew the team they had ranked as No. 1 was not there because of injuries and graduating people and redshirts," said redshirt sophomore Evelyne Guay. "We kind of joked around with it; it didn't bother us.
"We were putting forth our best effort, and we knew it wasn't No. 1 caliber. It was just funny because they didn't know what we knew."
After a 2015 season when it appeared everything that could go wrong did go wrong, a lot went right for the team Friday at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational.
Sophomore Anne Frisbie got her first race of the 2016 season under her belt after having to sit out the Roy Griak Invitational in September due to low iron levels, and 2013 All-American Bethanie Brown made her first return to cross-country competition since November 2014.
And competing in just her second meet of the season, Erin Hooker displayed a lot of improvement from her season-opening 41st-place finish at the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 24.
The redshirt junior led the way for the Cyclones in an eighth-place team effort, finishing 14th overall, which is 10 spots better than where she placed at the same meet a season ago.
"She had a terrific race," Grove-McDonough said. "That was kind of what we have come to expect from Erin when she's at her best. And even with Erin, I think she's going to continue to get fitter. She ran a really, really poised race and ran like a veteran, and it was really fun to watch."
Grove-McDonough had reason to be proud of her team's top-10 performance against a field that included 17 of the top-30 ranked teams in the nation and five out of the top 10, especially considering Brown and Frisbie were making their season debuts, Perez Rotich has proven she is capable of a stronger performance than 51st and freshman Branna MacDougall did not run.
The next step for Iowa State is the Big 12 Championship on Oct. 29 in Lubbock, Texas.
"[Big 12s is] going to be a dog fight," Grove-McDonough said. "I think this year, [in] the conference, there's a number of teams that are in contention. We're just going to focus on trying to get out there and be as competitive as we can and be aware of what's at stake and what's on the line. I think they always do.
"I'm looking forward to it, and I think we're a team that's going to get better every time out."