Finishing inside the top 25 at the NCAA Cross-Country Championship is no simple task, especially considering more than 250 teams don’t even qualify for nationals.
But for the Cyclones, last year’s 24th-place finish was a disappointment.
“We don’t like being in the 20s, that’s not anything any of us want to get comfortable with,” Iowa State coach Andrea Grove-McDonough said early this season. “I just want to move on.”
This year’s team is led by a strong top five that has stayed mostly healthy throughout the season.
Senior Perez Rotich and redshirt juniors Erin Hooker and Bethanie Brown are the veterans of the team. They’ve competed in a combined seven National Championship meets.
Sophomore Anne Frisbie and freshman Branna MacDougall round out the top five. Frisbie has emerged as one of the leaders on the team, finishing fourth at the Big 12 Championship on Oct. 29 and 10th at the NCAA Midwest Regionals. MacDougall, who Grove-McDonough said would make a big impact in November, displayed a lot of improvement between her 32nd-place finish at Big 12s and 22nd-place performance at regionals.
Even with a Big 12 title and an eighth straight invitation to nationals, Grove-McDonough has remained cautious.
“Can we win a national title? No, we’re not in that position, and we understand that, but that doesn’t mean we can’t run for a single digit and be up front,” Grove-McDonough said. “I love the momentum we’re building. I love how fresh we are as a team as opposed to this time last year, both physically and mentally.”
In the past, Grove-McDonough has been quick to speculate or try to get a feel for how the team can perform at nationals. This year, she said she doesn’t want to try to figure out what the team is capable of on Saturday.
That will be up to the runners to solve.
“If everyone could have a great day, I think we can surprise some people and have a little bit of an upset at nationals,” Brown said. “We got the job done at Big 12s, but nationals, whatever we can do is icing on the cake.”