Notebook: Depth, presence go hand-in-hand for cross country teams

The Iowa State women’s cross country team huddles together during the Hawkeye Invitational on Sep. 3. (Photo courtesy of Iowa State Athletic Communications)

Presley Polvere

The Iowa State cross country program is competing in the Big 12 Championship on Friday, looking to continue a tradition of dominance.

The women’s team has continued to improve at the national level and are now ranked 17th in the country. However, for the Big 12 Championship, they are taking a moment-by-moment approach.

For the men’s team, the Cyclones sit at No. 2 in the country, but are ready to face perennial power Oklahoma State.

Presence and depth a focus

Iowa State associate head women’s cross country coach Amy Rudolph and the women’s team are preparing for Friday’s competition with a focus of staying present and in the moment. While veterans make up a majority of the top runners in the program, Rudolph is preaching to her team to stay ready and stay committed to your work.

“We talked about really enjoying the process and being present and knowing that this is an amazing opportunity,” Rudolph said Monday. “Always going to the starting line with a smile on our face, knowing it’s going to hurt but we have each other as a team, it says a lot about them and the fun they are having.”

Even though this approach doesn’t touch on skill level, it touches on attitude and mindset, which opens the door for individual and team scores to climb. The athletes are able to experience it all, too.

Senior Cailie Logue exemplifies this presence approach even with this being her last Big 12 Cross Country Championship race. The senior has won three-straight individual Big 12 titles and is looking to complete her fourth.

“I do think about how this is my last Big 12 Championship, but at the same time I have to stay focused and in the moment. But it’s something I’ve thought about a lot,” Logue said. 

When it comes to race strategy, the Iowa State women have a mission. And it starts with preparation and staying mentally engaged on what’s in front of you.

“Everyone’s gonna have to have a great day, everyone’s gonna have to do their job. I need someone to kinda really step up on the day,” Rudolph said.

The Cyclone women are going head to head with an Oklahoma State team on their home territory in Stillwater, Oklahoma, which means anything is fair game.

Over on the men’s side, depth is big strength for this year’s team and could come in handy in a loaded field Friday. For Senior Thomas Pollard, the 2021 Cyclones have the most depth he’s seen in his time in Ames and he expects runners to step up 1-10 come Friday.

“One of our strengths is just how deep our team is. We have so many pieces and interchangeable guys,” Pollard said. “For training, we are able to push each other and when you’re working together in practice and you know you’re just gonna have a big pack of guys in the race, it gives you a little extra strength.” 

Since the Cyclone men have many athletes, it allows them more opportunity to score higher when it comes to a team score. 

Pieces to the puzzle

Iowa State Director of cross country/track and field Jeremy Sudbury said the Cyclones have used the regular season as more of a time for strategy than anything else, as this Friday’s Big 12 Championship has been circled on calendars all year along.

Now that the championship events are here for the Cyclones, priorities and energies have shifted. 

“Our regular season meets are more about preparation and making sure we have all of the right pieces in the right place and getting ready for those championship type events,” Sudbury said Monday.

Whether it’s upperclassmen Festus Lagat or Wesley Kiptoo, or any other main runner for Iowa State, Sudbury said the Cyclones have worked on strategies or when to push the pace or exert lots of energy. It’ll be up to the top of the pack for Iowa State to see these plans through.