Cross-country team ready for first meet

Emily Hejlik

The ISU cross-country team will kick off its 2012 season at the Bulldog Classic at 5 p.m. this Friday, Aug. 31, in Des Moines.

“The Bulldog Classic will set the tone for the rest of the season,” said coach Corey Ihmels. “It’s the first meet of the year and it will be good experience for our runners.”

A season ago, the squad opened the year running 13 student athletes in the Drake Fall Classic (Bulldog Classic) against Drake and Northern Iowa. Maggie Gannon was at the front of the pack for the Cyclone women as she earned the title in the 4,000-meter race, posting a time of 15:15.63.

The defending Big 12 champs dominated the 4K race with junior Bethany Olson finishing second (15:17.69), redshirt sophomore Maddy Becker placing fourth (15:21.99) and then-senior Kersten Thorgaard taking fifth (15:23.31) to go along with Gannon’s first-place finish.

The Cyclone men took their turn at Ewing Park’s 4,000-meter course following the conclusion of the women’s race and were led by junior Nick Schulze’s eighth-place finish. Redshirt sophomore Alex Dillenbeck and junior Stephen Saylor were close behind, crossing the line ninth and 10th.

Alec Bollman, who finished 20th at the 2011 meet, is hoping to improve on last year’s performance.

“The race didn’t go as well last year, but it was [a] good experience going forward,” Bollman said. “This week, we are practicing racing as a team to give us more confidence.”

Even though only five of the men will be competing, the whole team will be present for support. The expectations, nonetheless, are to win.

“We are going to run as a group early for the first mile, mile and a half so we position ourselves in the front,” Bollman said. “This will give us the time to attack at the end. We expect to win.”

Another Cyclone who is familiar with Ewing Park’s 4,000-meter course is 2011 runner-up Bethany Olson.

“The Bulldog Classic is a good benchmark to see where we are, fitnesswise,” Olson said. “This meet is no different than getting ready for nationals. You can’t expect to break a world-record, but you prepare like you would for any other race.”

Fresh off a seventh-place team finish at the NCAA Championships, Olson has high expectations for the weekend.

“I feel like we can have four of us in the top five,” Olson said. “I plan on having a Cyclone at the front. There is no reason we shouldn’t expect to win the meet.”

Not only is the Bulldog Classic critical to jump-start the season in the right direction, but it also gives runners the opportunity to prove themselves.

“It’s always important to show coach you can race,” Olson said. “When you’re traveling 10 girls, these preliminary meets are definitely valuable. Hopefully this race is a good motivator and confidence builder for all of us.”