Bloomington, IN - At the conclusion of each outdoor track season, Indiana womens cross country coach Judy Wilson and mens coach Robert Chapman distribute a detailed summer workout schedule to each of their student-athletes. So when preseason cross country workouts begin in mid-August, it quickly becomes evident who did not complete their homework assignments.
So much of how a cross country runner performs during the cross country season is dependent upon what they do over the summer months, Wilson said. I don't want to start school and have someone run 50 miles a week. If they haven't been doing anything over the summer, they are certainly going to risk getting injured.
Fortunately, both Hoosier teams have remained relatively healthy, which has paid big dividends this fall. The men and women are each ranked 18th nationally, and they hope to see an even bigger return on their investment Sunday at the annual Big Ten Cross Country Championships at Purdues Varsity Cross Country Course. The womens 5K gets underway at 10:45 a.m., followed by the mens 8K at 11:30 a.m.
The majority of our top 10 knew what needed to be done this past summer and then went out every day and put the work in, Wilson said. That enabled us to do some things this year that we weren't able to do in the past because fitness levels were higher this past August when the athletes returned to school.
As each coach prescribed their teams workouts, they never failed to highlight three important November dates - the Nov. 3 Big Ten Championship, the Nov. 16 NCAA Great Lakes Regional, each in West Lafayette, and the Nov. 25 NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute.
This is the Big Ten Championships and the NCAA's. I don't ever have to worry about getting guys up for these meets, Chapman said. But we also made essentially zero emotional investment in any the meets we have run in so far. So we're pretty fresh in that department.
With five Big Ten mens teams ranked among the NCAAs Top 20 (No. 11 Wisconsin, No. 12 Michigan, No. 15 Minnesota, No. 18 Indiana and No. 20 Ohio State) and four womens teams among the Top 25 (No. 9 Wisconsin, No. 18 Indiana, No. 23 Michigan State and No. 24 Michigan), the league championship will be as competitive as ever.
I think it's pretty common to have four or five in the top 25 every year, Chapman said. I always tell people that cross country is similar to football and basketball in that every year, you can count on 4-5 teams from the Big Ten being in the top 25.
The team scores at the Big Ten will be much closer than in years past, Wilson said. If MSU rebounds from the Pre-NCAA meet, and Michigan comes ready to run, it will be very close. We have run against Wisconsin twice, once at Notre Dame where we ran sub-par and the other was at Pre-NCAA where we were only 32 pts behind in a 260 runner field. They are attainable if we have five who will go out and lay it all on the line.
The men and women each boast an individual champion contender. Mindy Peterson finished 16th in the league as a freshman, and Wilson feels another year of experience can only help her.
Mindy has gone from a freshman who would get totally overwhelmed with the number of people running around her, to someone who has been able to maintain her composure and focus in the race, Wilson said. She was third at one point at the Pre-NCAA meet... She might have been a little overanxious, but I'd rather have her go out on a limb and take a chance and compete, than never get into the race at all because sooner or later, you will prove to yourself that you can stay up there. She's a very smart runner and very competitive. If she is anywhere near the leader on Sunday with 300m to go, she can win.
On the mens side, redshirt freshman John Jefferson, one of the leagues top milers in indoor and outdoor track and a 2002 indoor All-American, has carried this momentum to cross country. While Chapman is certainly confident in Jefferson, he is equally excited about his teams depth.
Any of the nine guys we're sending out could be in the scoring five for us the rest of the year, Chapman said. There's no pecking order with this group. But everyone has progressed well. We've been pretty low key with training this fall, looking more towards November and the track season, so a lot of these guys are really rounding into form about now.
Which is right on schedule.
With three races in 23 days, the focus shifts from training to build fitness to training to prepare to race, he said. With this group, I just need to make sure they have fresh legs for the races and get them to the meet on time.