November 18, 2002
Bloomington, IN - For the first time in school history, the No. 20 Indiana men's and women's cross country teams have each advanced to the NCAA Championships. Each Hoosier club finished fourth in its respective 31-team NCAA Great Lakes Regional in West Lafayette on Nov. 16 to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships. The NCAA Championships are slated for Nov. 25 at the Vern Gibson Championship Course at the Wabash Family Sports Center in Terre Haute. The women's 6K race starts at 12 p.m., followed by the men's 10K at 1:15 p.m.
Following the regional meet, both teams were pretty confident in their at-large bid status. Seven Great Lakes region women's teams will be at nationals, as will nine men's teams.
"That helped things, helped ease the nerves," freshman Jessica Gall said of the team's wait for the official at-large announcement. "When you do that well against so many teams in your region, you can't help but feel good about your chances."
The Indiana women's program is not only making its first NCAA appearance since 1990, but the program was also impacted by significant "homonym" this week. In addition to the national championship "berth", head coach Judy Wilson and her husband, IU rowing coach Mark Wilson, had the "birth" of their first child, a son, Hunter Mark, born Nov. 17. Hunter checked in at 21 inches long, 7 pounds and 14 ounces, and the entire family is happy and healthy.
Junior Audrey Giesler, who was second for the Hoosiers and 14th overall (21:46.8) at the regional, credits Wilson for one of the most impressive one-year improvements in the country. Indiana was ninth in Big Ten and 12th in the region last season before improving to third and fourth, respectively, in 2002.
"Coach Wilson decided the morning of the regional race that it was probably not a good idea for her to go to the meet," Giesler said. "I know it was really hard for her not to be there. But she had already prepared us to get where we are."
Indiana's goal at the start of the season was to qualify for the NCAAs. Now, that the Hoosiers have reached that goal, they will hardly rest on their laurels.
"It's exciting, especially considering where we were a year ago," Giesler said. "One one hand, we've taken a big step forward. But now, it's on to that next step. We want to close the year with a strong performance."
Indeed, the stage is set for a fantastic finish.
"Last (cross country) season was frustrating," Giesler said. "We worked hard during indoor and outdoor track, and picked up some momentum. A lot of us stayed in Bloomington last summer to train, and we have a great group of freshmen. They have made a huge impact, and we have such great team chemistry. That's been the difference."
"The upperclassmen welcomed us to the team, which is one of the big reasons why I came here," Gall said. "We're prepared for this. We're going to train smart, race smart and hopefully run well."
Freshman Lindsay Hattendorf notes that both Hoosier teams have a distinct advantage over the other 30 teams in their respective fields.
"We've trained and competed on the course there, so we can visualize key points of the race," she said. "It's also convenient from a travel standpoint."
The Indiana men's team also enjoys a unique camaraderie, which has paved the way to the second NCAA appearance in the last three years. In 2000, the Hoosiers finished 17th.
According to Big Ten Freshman of the Year John Jefferson, the foundation for the cross country success was set last winter and spring.
"We had some success last season, which gave our young guys a lot of confidence," the 2002 NCAA indoor mile All-American said. "We proved that we could run with the big names."
Indiana opened the season by winning its second Indiana Intercollegiates title in the last three years. The Hoosiers are also quite familiar with the Vern Gibson Championship Course, having finished second in the 20-team Indiana State Invitational (Oct. 5) and fourth in the 35-team Pre-NCAA Meet (Oct. 19). IU will use this experience to its advantage on Nov. 25.
"We've definitely come on strong at the right time," Jefferson said. "We may have sacrificed a spot at Big Tens (IU finished fourth), but it pays off for the bigger meets, Districts and Nationals."
Junior Bart Phariss knows that the weather, especially on Nov. 25, can play a considerable factor.
"Indiana State's course is really flat, essentially two 5K loops," Phariss said, referring to the 10K course map. "There are hills at the 1.5 K and 6.5K marks that aren't as noticeable as hills on other courses are. If it's snowing or raining out, that could be the biggest factor."
Considering that both teams return their top seven runners, along with 2002 redshirts and past NCAA track and cross country qualifiers Allyson Hammond, Chad Andrews and Chris Powers, and you can see why Wilson and men's head coach Robert Chapman are so excited about the future.
"Recruiting-wise, it definitely helps a lot," Jefferson said. "When you look at our success this year and see that everyone will be back, plus the redshirts, it's pretty appealing to be here."