ISU women’s cross country team looks to fill gaps

Kyle Heim

With the NCAA Championships just around the corner, one key question remains for the ISU women’s cross country team.

Will Iowa State be able to bridge the gap among its three, four and five runners?

A total of 55 spots separated the team’s third and fourth finishers at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational on Oct. 17. An additional 24 spots separated their four and five finishers.

“We have a big, big gap between that three and four to our five spot,” said ISU coach Andrea Grove-McDonough. “Perez [Rotich] or Erin [Hooker] needs to get it done at the national meet. One of those girls needs to be 20 or 30 places better at the national meet than they were at Wisconsin. We have two of them, so we can take some risks.”

The key to strong performances from Hooker and Rotich are improved starts in races and staying calm.

“I tend to hunch up and get really tense during races,” Hooker said. “[It’s important] to keep breathing and staying in good form for the bigger competition.”

The Cyclones expect an immediate impact in performance once 2013 All-American Bethanie Brown returns to the starting lineup as the team’s third runner. Brown finished third for the team and 16th overall at the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 27. She didn’t participate in the Wisconsin Invitational because of a tendon injury in her foot.

Graduate student Margaret Connelly will return to the four spot on the team when Brown returns. Connelly was the team’s third runner at the Wisconsin Invitational, finishing 24th overall.

Grove-McDonough said Hooker and Perez could be the difference for the team at the NCAA Championships.

“It may in fact be that Perez and Erin are lights out at the NCAA meet and someone else falters,” Grove-McDonough said. “Let’s face it — it’s the nationals, so anything can happen.”

Improvements from Hooker and Rotich won’t be enough to ensure a great outing for the team at the NCAA Championships. The team also needs its top runners to continue to perform at a high level.

“I don’t want to put any more pressure on [Hooker and Rotich] because that’s assuming Margaret runs like she ran at Wisconsin,” Grove-McDonough said. “That’s assuming that Katy [Moen] and Crystal [Nelson] are slammin’ up front. There are a lot of assumptions being made.”

Iowa State will have opportunities to improve at the Big 12 Championships and the NCAA Midwest Regional before competing in the NCAA Championships on Nov. 22.