The Finishing Kick with Cross Country Assistant Coach Jimmy Bean

Oct. 15, 2007

by Jimmy Bean

Upon arriving at the course on Friday for our pre-meet warm-up, it was evident that the course had not seen much rain, and that it would play host to some fast races on Saturday. When surveying the course Saturday morning, nothing had changed, and it was my thought that paces would be extremely quick, and that the leaders would go out in the first mile of races at rates we hadn't seen this year. After running over to the mile marker, my suspicions were confirmed as a pack of athletes led by Lopez Lomong from Northern Arizona went through the mile in 4:17, which is just a ridiculous pace.

Just fifteen seconds back, our first runner Jon Harding would follow in approximately 25th place for the mile, with Kelly Spady, Carl Moe, and Max O'Donoghue-McDonald lurking close behind. At this point, it was exciting to see where our guys were in the race. When Riley Booker and Austin Abbott went through the mile in the neighborhood of 4:40, and then our consummate grinder Adam Shimer just off that pace in 4:47, it looked as though we could have a good day ahead of us.

As I ran up to the 5k mark to track the progress of our men, one fear that I had was that our men would struggle with the early pace and fade a little in the later stages of the race. Just prior to the halfway point, we still were running strong, and it was encouraging to see our placing. At that point, the race took a turn in the other direction. Max O'Donoghue-McDonald, our standout freshman, got caught up in a pile-up at a turn, and lost about ten places, and most importantly his momentum.

At the 6k mark, one could see that our men would struggle in the last quarter of the race. With only sub-4-minute miler Austin Abbott charging on the field, we were losing valuable places by the moment. Counting spots at the finish line, I could see Pac-10 rivals Cal and UCLA having incredible days, while our top guys were hovering in the 50-75 range, which would not help us in the team scoring. As Harding, Spady, and Moe finished close to one another in 52nd, 64th, and 67th, we waited for our 4th man Austin Abbott to come in around 95th place. Close behind, withstanding the mid-race mishap, Max went on to finish as our 5th man in 103rd place. With all that totaled up, we finished 16th among teams in our race, and it was just a tough day for our men. That being said, our men left Indiana with resolve that we can improve upon our effort from this weekend and continue to make improvement all the way until November 19, when we hope to return to Terre Haute for the NCAA Cross-Country Championships.

Just over an hour later, our women would square off against some of the very best teams in the country. With the best women's team we have had in years, this was going to be another test of where our team is en route to the championship phase of our season. The race got out to a quick start with a front pack of All-American runners. In that pack Anita Campbell ran right on the edge, and looked comfortable running right alongside the premier runners in Division-I. Just a few spots back was sophomore Katie Follett, and it looked as though she would have another standout effort following her runner-up race at the Dellinger Invitational.

In the top 40 of the field, which is good positioning for teams' 3 and 4 runners, were Mel Lawrence and Amanda Miller. Lawrence, who had been battling an illness all week, looked under control, and Amanda Miller was just a few spots back from her. What was exciting to see following our front four was standout miler Dani Schuster following close behind, giving our women's team a great top 5 out front early in the race. Following the mile, I followed the progress of Coaches Strong and Metcalf and I could see the excitement they had that we were battling with the top teams in the country and holding our own.

At the 3k mark, it was announced that we were in 5th place in the race, and that was with Katie Follett, now in the midst of a tough race, fading a little. Katie, who has been phenomenal all year faded to around 35th position at that point, and to her credit continued to battle in that place and give our team a chance at a great finish. Meanwhile, teammate Amanda Miller was on her way to a solid day as she continued to move on the field. Anita, who was hovering in the top 15 places of the race, was charging from 4k out to the finish, and ran a tough race, finishing 12th overall and giving our women a low stick out front.

Running nearly side by side, Amanda and Katie came running up the final quarter mile of the race with some energy. Amanda, who is one of the better milers in the country, and Katie, who has shown signs that she will be, had great mechanics in the final stages of the race, and gave our women a solid 2-3 placing by going 35th and 36th respectively, with Mel following close behind. The freshman from Reno struggled in her race, but kept our team close with a solid 45th place finish. It is encouraging to see where she finished despite not feeling well past Wednesday in the week.

Dani Schuster, who Coach Metcalf and Coach Strong had been talking about all week as the individual that needs to be our 5th girl, continued to run well past the 5k and ran past several competitors in the final 1k of the race to finish 59th overall. Dani, who has shown signs of being outstanding at any distance from 800-meters to 6k, finished 132nd at this race last year. Among the teams in the race, only Princeton (1st overall) and Illinois (5th overall) had a better 5th runner than we did, and that is most important when factoring where your team can finish at championship races.

When the scores were tallied, our women were fourth overall, only behind Princeton, Arizona State, and Michigan. All three of these teams are ranked top-13 in the country, and our women were able to best Colorado (ranked 2nd) and Illinois (ranked 10th) which is not only beneficial in accumulating qualifying points for the national championships, but an important step for our women's program as they continue their climb to being among the elite teams in the United States.

Altogether, the weekend provided an outstanding competitive opportunity for our young men and women, and it will be interesting and exciting to see how both groups respond to this weekend's outcome. Our women, now in a better place than they have been in the recent past, will duke it out with Stanford and Arizona State, probably two of the top five teams in all of the NCAA, at the Pac-10 Championships in Corvallis, Oregon in two weeks. And our men will have an opportunity to bounce back after a disappointing effort as we will battle quite possibly five of America's top-20 teams in two weeks.

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