Challenges abound for Hawkeye cross-country

An experienced men’s squad and a youthful women’s team prepare for a landscape filled with tough competition.


Joseph Cress

Iowa sophomore Andrea Shine rounds a turn during the Border Battle indoor track meet in the UI Recreation Building with Iowa, Missouri and Illinois competing on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017. The Hawkeye women defeated Missouri and Illinois, 105-33 and 96-51 respectively, while the men defeated Missouri, 107-27 and fell to Illinois, 85-74.

Hanna Malzenski, Sports Reporter

The men and women of Iowa cross-country are tightening their laces as the season quickly approaches, and it begins with a home meet. The Hawkeye Invitational will take place Friday at the Ashton Cross-Country Course, the first of six regular-season races.

Following the invitational, the Hawkeyes will face Nebraska’s Woody Greeno, the Notre Dame Invitational, the Bradley Invitational, Wisconsin’s Pre-Nationals, and the Illinois Open. Only the women will race at the Bradley event, and only the men will run at the Wisconsin Pre-Nationals.

After the regular season, the Hawkeyes will revisit Nebraska for the Big Ten Championships, Bradley for the NCAA Regional, and depending on their performance, Wisconsin for the NCAA Championship.

For the Iowa men, the roster is dominated by upperclassmen who have proved their worth. Juniors Brandon Cooley and Nathan Mylenek and seniors Ian Eklin, Michael Melchert, and Daniel Soto head into the season with broken records and top times under their belts. The upperclassmen will lead the Hawkeyes, including five underclassmen, into the season.

“[The underclassmen] are really going to see what we want this program to be about,” Mylenek said. “We want to be a team where we show up to meets and people don’t want to race us, so having the freshmen experience a bunch of upperclassmen who are really ready to roll, I think, will be a good thing for them.”

I want that experience to matter

— cross-country coach Randy Hasenbank

This confidence is mirrored on the women’s side, especially in senior Andrea Shine, who was Iowa’s top finisher in 2017.

“I think we are coming in as a very underrated team,” Shine said. “I’m looking forward to defying everyone’s expectations and showing how strong we are.”

Unlike the men, the women are loaded with underclassmen, making Shine only one of two seniors on the roster. This has created a new motivation for her final year as a Hawkeye.

“Last cross-country season was the first time that I was really tactical and was a front-runner in races,” the senior said. “Now, I want to see if I can push my limits even more, because this is my last shot for cross-country.”

Head coach Randy Hasenbank expects the returning runners to use their experience as guidelines this season.

“I want to see them go out physically and mentally prepared and having a lot more confidence when they go up to the line in those big meets,” he said. “I want that experience to matter and to count for something.”

The Hawkeyes will need to use the experience as they face the tough challengers on both the men’s and women’s sides.

On Monday, the preseason NCAA Division-1 Regional Cross-Country Rankings were released by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association. The Iowa men were ranked No. 8 in the Midwest Region, a jump compared with the 2017 preseason ranking (11). The men will face five Big Ten teams that have been ranked in the top spots for the Great Lakes Region: Wisconsin (1), Michigan State (2), Michigan (3), Indiana (4), and Purdue (5). From the Mid-Atlantic Region, the Hawkeyes will face Penn State (5). In their home Midwest Region, they face Illinois (3) and Minnesota (4).

The competition is no weaker for the Iowa women. The women are ranked #12, a significant change from their nonexistent ranking for the 2017 preseason. Similar to the men, the Great Lakes Region has some of the leading teams of the Big Ten: Wisconsin (1), Michigan (2), Michigan State (3), Indiana (4), Ohio State (6), and Purdue (8). The Mid-Atlantic Region has Penn State (1), and the Midwest Region contains Minnesota (3) and Northwestern (7).

The next round of regional rankings will be released Sept. 10, after the first races have been run.