Hoosiers Head to Nationals (11-15-03)
Terre Haute, Ind. - The No. 11 Indiana men's cross country team and the Indiana women's cross country team appear to have qualified for the NCAA Championships for the second straight year. The Hoosier women finished fourth and the men finished fifth at Saturday's NCAA Great Lakes Region Championship at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course. Considering that five of the top 20 men's programs and six of the top 30 women's programs hail from the Great Lakes Region, Indiana appears to be on solid ground when the NCAA Championship at-large berths are announced on Nov. 17.
Nine regional meets were held on Nov. 15, and the top two teams and top four individuals not on one of those two teams automatically advance to the NCAA Meet on Nov. 24 at Northern Iowa. On Nov. 17, the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championship Committee will select 13 at-large teams and two at-large individuals from each of the nine regions. Overall, 31 teams and 38 individuals qualify for the championships.
This marks the first time since Indiana won back-to-back regional titles in 1989 and 1990 that the Hoosiers have had consecutive top four finishes at the regional meet.
The Hoosier women placed three runners among the top 30 to repeat last year's fourth place regional finish. Senior Audrey Giesler finished the 6K course in 14th place at 21:15, followed by junior Mindy Peterson (20th, 21:26) and Kelly Siefker (27th, 21:44).
Indiana coach Judy Wilson points to Peterson's finish as a decisive factor in the team standings.
"Mindy was the big one," Wilson said. "She has been fit all season, but she has not had good races. She would go out strong for the first 2K (of the race) and then cash in her chips. That was not the case today.
"She was right with Audrey at 2K, but by 3K, Audrey had moved ahead a little bit. I told Mindy at the 3K point that she had to stay with the group, and she responded well."
Peterson could not have picked a better time to answer her coach's call.
"I have had my ups and downs this season, mostly downs," Peterson said. "It wasn't an issue of conditioning, I was just in a race slump. It is great to turn it around in a race like today. It was wet today, but it wasn't pouring down rain. It is great to have regionals so close to home. We are so familiar with this course, it is almost like a home meet for us."
What makes Indiana's performance even more impressive is that three of the Hoosiers' top five runners from last year's team - Becky Obrecht, Jessica Gall and Lindsay Hattendorf - are each out with an injury. Thus, some of the Hoosiers' younger runners - Kristin Whitezell, Larra Overton, Julie Shields and Heidi Crowley - could get valuable experience next week in Cedar Falls.
"This was a great race, and we needed it," Wilson said. "It's been a good season. The top seven girls - each one - there are plenty of good things to talk about."
Peterson feels that the Hoosiers' injury report could be a blessing in disguise.
"Audrey, Kelly and I each have he experience of last year's national meet, but the others could be going to nationals for the first time," Peterson said. "This is a great experience for the others to go out and compete against the best.
The Indiana men are also familiar with tough competition, as their fifth place finish appears to clinch their third NCAA appearance in the last four years. The No. 11 Hoosiers finished ahead of No. 18 Notre Dame and No. 28 Eastern Michigan.
Sophomore Sean Jefferson topped his career-best 10K effort by 16 seconds on Saturday, finishing third overall in 30:41. A pair of fifth-year seniors - Chris Powers (20th, 31:00.5) and Chad Andrews (31:12.1)- also finished among the top 30. Sophomore Eric Redman (33rd, 31:15.6) was not far behind the top three, and Stephen Haas (49th, 31:35.2), Charlie Koeppen (57th, 31:56.6) and Tom Burns (58th, 31:58.1) round out IU's lineup.
As always, Indiana had a detailed gameplan heading into the race.
"In cross country, it's all about place. Times don't matter," Chapman said. "That was Sean's best cross country race since the Big Ten meet last year. We kind of changed his strategy, bringing down his miles and making sure that he established a rhythm early. He has tended to overrun at times this year."
While Chapman was pleased with Jefferson's performance, a collective effort was top priority.
"For the Regional, the focus is less on getting certain individuals to step up, and more on having the whole group run a solid effort to get the team into the nationals," Chapman said. "We view this more as a qualifying heat rather than a 'final' race. We tend to do a conservative first 5K and then make our move on the second five. That (second 5K) always determines how well we do."
Fortunately, for Chapman, his team already has a seasoned approach to the important month of November.
"Just having NCAA Championship experience under our belt is huge. We've got nine athletes on this year's team with NCAA championship experience in cross country, compared to just three last season," Chapman said." They are a veteran group, and having that experience has them confident and knowing what to expect. I think that will have a huge impact on their performance. Last year, we were happy to be there. This year, we're focused on what we can do. "
Top 10 of 32 teams
1. Wisconsin, 72
2. Michigan, 76
3. Ohio State, 116
4. Central Michigan, 131
5. Indiana, 134
6. Miami-Ohio, 141
7. Butler, 143
8. Notre Dame, 145
9. Eastern Michigan, 181
10. Kent State, 268
IU Men's Individuals
224 total runners
3. Sean Jefferson, 30:41
20. Chris Powers, 31:00.5
29. Chad Andrews, 31:12.5
33. Eric Redman, 31:15.6
49. Stephen Haas, 31:35.2
57. Charlie Koeppen, 31:56.6
58. Tom Burns, 31:58.1
Top 10 of 30 teams
1. Notre Dame, 43
2. Michigan, 58
3. Michigan State, 96
4. Indiana, 150
5. Marquette, 159
6. Wisconsin, 203
7. Toledo, 206
8. Ball State, 298
9. Butler, 313
10. Purdue, 328
IU Women's Individuals
214 total runners
14. Audrey Giesler, 21:15
20. Mindy Peterson, 21:26
27. Kelly Siefker, 21:44
41. Kristin Whitezell, 22:01
48. Larra Overton, 22:10
81. Julie Shields, 22:42
90. Heidi Crowley, 22:59
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