The time has arrived: The weather is starting to cool down, the cross-country season is starting to heat up and the road to the NCAA Cross-Country Championship begins.
History will favor Iowa State at the Big 12 Championship on Saturday in Stillwater, Okla., as the team has won the past four conference championships. But inconsistencies have been unavoidable for the young Cyclones this season.
The team finished runner-up at the Greater Louisville Classic on Oct. 3. Perez Rotich, Becky Straw and Erin Hooker led the Cyclones with fourth, 12th and 13th place finishes respectively.
"I thought we did a nice job," said ISU coach Andrea Grove-McDonough when talking about her team's performance in Louisville. "I thought our runners at four and five did their job. Our one through three did kind of what we thought they would do, and [Rotich] had a terrific day. A lot of positives came out of it. I would say nothing negative."
Grove-McDonough's reaction was different after the team finished seventh at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Oct. 16, but she still displayed optimism.
"Did it go perfect? Nope. Did we emerge as better team because of it? Yep. Did we show we could be warriors? Absolutely," Grove-McDonough tweeted after the meet.
At the beginning of the season, the Big 12 Championship had the making of a showdown between two of the top 10 teams in the country — Iowa State and West Virginia.
Iowa State finished second at the 2014 NCAA Championship, and West Virginia placed ninth, leading to the two teams entering their 2015 campaigns ranked No. 1 and No. 9.
But injuries to key runners on both teams have led to Iowa State dropping to No. 11 in the current poll and West Virginia falling from the top 25.
Oklahoma State has replaced West Virginia in the poll and is ranked No. 23 entering Big 12s, adding a third team to the mix of favorites for this year's Big 12 title. But the Cyclones have yet to compete in a meet that includes a top-25 ranked team.
Iowa State will have the upper hand in experience competing against elite competition Saturday after sending its runners to the Greater Louisville Classic and Wisconsin adidas Invitational, which, combined, featured more than 20 top-25 ranked teams.
"Now that we've started, I think we know where we can finish and where we can place," Hooker said. "We don't know, but we have an idea."
Iowa State will rely on Hooker and Rotich, who finished ninth and 13th at last year's conference championship, to lead the team to another conference championship in Stillwater on Saturday.
And if the Cyclones claim a fifth straight Big 12 title Saturday, Iowa State will not only have to worry about accommodating for its growing enrollment. The school will also need to find space for the increasing number of trophies the women's cross-country team continues to bring home.