Attention turns to NCAA Championships for cross country

Kevin Shay

The ISU women were all smiles at practice Monday after a stellar performance at the NCAA Midwest Regional Meet in Peoria, Ill., that led to a regional title and a trip to the national championship meet next Monday.

The women topped second-place Big 12 foe Oklahoma State by 70 points, and border rival Minnesota finished third after winning the previous three regional titles.

“We finally had a day where we felt like all our young ladies ran to their ability,” said coach Corey Ihmels. “And I think we got some good momentum going into next week. We just need a little bit more improving, and we can have our best day yet at nationals.”

Perennial meet contenders Betsy Saina and Aliphine Tuliamuk once again impressed, finishing second and fourth in the 6,000-meter regional race. Saina finished in a time of 20:01.54, just six-hundredths of a second behind Minnesota Golden Gopher Stephanie Price, who took the individual title at the regional meet.

What led to the dominating performance for the Cyclones, though, was the improved performances by Dani Stack, Lucy Kennedy and Semehar Tesfaye. They all finished in the top 15 and were named All-Region recipients Monday by The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association along with Saina and Tuliamuk.

Tesfaye finished fifth and lived up to Ihmels’ early week expectations that she needed to run with Saina and Tuliamuk.

“[Tesfaye] had a great day,” Ihmels said. “I give a lot of credit to her for staying focused on the task at hand and to keep plugging away at things. She finally ran where I think she felt she was capable of running, so it made a huge difference in the team score and the way the team looks at things headed into nationals.”

Lucy Kennedy also improved from a somewhat disappointing Big 12 Championship race to finish 10th overall. It turns out the secret was actually less preparation.

“I felt a lot better than I have in previous races,” Kennedy said. “I worked less hard this past week; my mileage was down a bit from previous weeks. So I felt a bit more fresh.”

Meanwhile, after her 14th-place finish, Stack ran what she felt was a personal best, just two weeks after she declared her Big 12 Championship meet was her best race yet.

“I’d say this regional race was the best race I’ve run,” Stack said. “I finally really felt like I was moving the field and getting in there and being really competitive and actually running with our top four girls for most of the race.”

Running collectively as a team was something the coaches had harped on in the weeks prior to the regional meet.

“We definitely enforced the team aspect of it a lot more,” Stack said. “And we kinda made sure that, you know, we needed to do this for our team, because we had a chance to win the region, and if we were all competing for each other, then we would probably win the region.”

While the ISU women accomplished their goals, the men fell just short as they finished fourth and were not selected for an at-large bid by the selection sub-committee.

“It’s disappointing in the end, because I think we’re the first team not in, and it’s frustrating,” Ihmels said. “But I felt like they ran really well on the day. I knew we had to be third or fourth to have a chance to get in, and we gave our self an opportunity [to advance to nationals].”

Although the team did not advance, Hillary Bor and Rico Loy were recognized as All-Region runners after finishing 13th and 14th individually. Bor finished in the necessary top four of individual runners who are not members of an already advancing team, thus ensuring his advancement. Bor was fourth among such runners; therefore, Loy fell just shy of a trip to the national meet himself.

“It’s kind of bittersweet for Rico, because Rico had a tremendous run, but he just missed the cut on nationals,” Ihmels said. “But that’s a good step for him as he moves forward to next year because he’s got another year left.”

Meanwhile, the women are excited about their regional title and looking forward to nationals.

“We’re really excited about [the regional title],” Stack said. “I think it’s just going to bring us into nationals hot; we feel like we’re kinda on a roll right now. I’m so excited for nationals, like, I can’t wait. I want nationals to come tomorrow so we can race.”

Unfortunately for Stack and the rest of the women, they will have to temper their excitement until Monday when they will compete at the NCAA Championship meet in Terre Haute, Ind.