Iowa State men’s and women’s cross country punch its ticket to NCAA National Championships

Iowa State distance runners Cailie Logue and Anne Frisbie run side by side during the women’s 6k at the NCAA Cross Country Midwest Regional held at Iowa State on Nov. 10. Logue placed 3rd overall for the women’s division with a time of 20:14. Frisbie placed 9th overall for the women’s division with a time of 20:28. The women’s team placed first overall with a score of 90.

Maggie Davis

As the last notes of the national anthem drifted into silence, the sound of gloved hands in muffled applause filled the air.

And then the madness began again. 

Hundreds of multi-colored warm ups from schools around the Midwest flashed by in small packs as 36 men’s and women’s cross country teams prepared to race for a chance to punch their ticket to the NCAA National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky on Nov. 18th. 

Runners are in various stages of warming up or trying to keep warm as onlookers crowd together, cloaked in more layers than they can count, clutching warm drinks.

It may have been a cold day in central Iowa, but the Iowa State cross country teams stayed hot.  

For the second meet in a row, the Iowa State men’s and women’s cross country squads swept their team races. 

Of course, these aren’t just any old meets. 

On Oct. 28, the two teams claimed the Big 12 Conference titles in Round Rock, Texas. It was the first time Iowa State had swept the men and women’s side since 1990, and the first time the men had won since 1994.  

Now, on Nov. 10, the cross country teams stood their ground on their home course and claimed the top spot for the NCAA Midwest Regional Qualifying meet right here in Ames, despite rather chilly temperatures and windy conditions.  

At 10:45, as the outdoor temperature sat at a balmy 12 degrees with wind chill, the 36-team women’s field kicked off the meet in the 6 kilometer race.   

“We wanted to get into position early,” said head women’s cross country coach Andrea Grove-McDonough. “There were so many teams. The quality wasn’t there, but the bodies were.”

The women had been focusing on “defending their house” at this meet, and came out of the race with a strong win over second place Oklahoma State as they had at the Big 12s. 

A number of key performances played a role in the women’s team win. 

Freshman Cailie Logue finished third overall in 20:13.7, and was the first finisher for the Cyclones. Next was junior Anne Frisbie in ninth, followed by Amanda Vestri in 11th. 

But it was the number five runner for the Cyclones who came up big for the team.  

“Kelly Naumann fell really hard, really got trampled, but got up and still scored for us at five. That was really big,” Grove-McDonough said after the race.

“Over that last 1000 meters, she was hurting. But she hung tough and found a way to get across that finish line. That’s what great athletes do. Especially when they’re running for their team.” 

The women’s team is coming off a very strong 2017 season, and their post season performances have continued in the same manner. They took the Big 12 Conference title for the second year in a row, and have now cemented a spot at the NCAA National Championships with the automatic qualifier in the regional meet win. 

“We wanted to defend our turf,” Grove-McDonough said. “That really meant something to this group of women.” 

And defend it they did. 

The Iowa State women beat out second place Oklahoma State by 13 points, 90 to 103. Minnesota finished third with 119 points. 

While the official race results were still pending, the women’s team was all smiles with hugs all around and the occasional, “Oh my god! We won!” 

With the bar set high in the women’s race, it was the men’s turn. 

The men’s race was a distance of 10 kilometers, and three kilometers in, they were sitting in third place as a team. 

Halfway through the race they dropped to fourth. 

The Cyclones needed at least a second place finish to clinch an automatic qualifying spot. Due to an inconsistent regular season, they couldn’t afford to place their hopes in making it to nationals with at-large points. They had to be top two. 

With 2,000 meters to go, they weren’t even top three. 

“It was a pretty dramatic last 1000 meters,” said assistant coach Jeremy Sudbury. “We were actually a little nervous as a staff.” 

In fact, after the first 194 runners had crossed, the team score board displayed at the finish line that the Cyclones were sitting in fourth. 

A few minutes later however, the unofficial team scores were given, and the Iowa State men had moved up enough in the last 2,000 meters to take first.

The first two finishers for the Cyclones were junior Dan Curts and sophomore Andrew Jordan, coming in at third and fourth overall. 

In similar fashion to the women’s race, Iowa State’s key points came from the number five runner. In this case, that was in the form of true freshman Milo Greder.

Greder helped the Cyclones out in the back on their way to winning the Big 12 title two weeks ago, and he did the same again today. 

“It’s a great honor for them to pull my redshirt and let me run for them,” Greder said after the race. “I just really want to do anything to help the team.” 

Sophomore Stanley Langat was the third finisher for Iowa State in 18th, and junior Nathan Rodriguez, who hadn’t raced since the season opener in September, came in 20th, giving the men four finishers in the top 25.

Head coach Martin Smith discussed how the women came out and set the bar high, and that the guys knew they had to perform in order to make it to nationals. 

“Cross country is a sport we want to be successful at, and it’s something we work very hard at,” Smith said. “It’s neat to see both groups get the reward for all their hard work, dedication, and discipline.” 

Smith also said that the national championship meet will really challenge the team, but that challenge is an important step in building a successful, national class program.  

“It’ll be really interesting to see how this group [of men] charges its athletic battery to get ready for the national meet. It’s like nothing they’ve seen,” Smith said. “Hopefully we’ve laid a foundation and not only will we learn a lot, but we can be successful.”

The coaches on both the men and women’s side made one thing very clear. 

“We’re not going to celebrate too long,” Grove-McDonough said of the women’s team. “What we’re really trying to do is be a great team at the NCAA’s.” 

Sudbury echoed similar thoughts for the men. 

“We get right back in the saddle tomorrow,” Sudbury said. “It’s a quick turnaround — eight days. Until then, it’s back to business.”