Iowa cross country finishes off its season at Big Ten Championship

Both the men’s and women’s teams head to Columbus, Ohio, to compete in the biggest meet of the season: the Big Ten Championship.

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Jenna Galligan

Iowa distance runner Nathan Mylenek leads the pack of the 1500-meter run at the Musco Twilight Invitational at the Cretzmeyer Track on Saturday, April 13, 2019. Mylenek won the race with a time 3:52:06. The Hawkeyes won 10 events during the meet. The Iowa women ranked first with 183 points, and the men ranked fifth 76 points.

Ben Payla, Sports Reporter

A season of hard work for the Iowa cross country team is reaching its final stretch as the Hawkeyes travel to Ohio State to race in the Big Ten Championship meet.

“A sixth-place finish would be great,” senior Nate Mylenek said. “However, our goal is third, so as long as we are fighting for that we will get a good placement.”

Last season, it was the Wisconsin Badgers who ran away with the title on the men’s side, finishing with 50 fewer points than second-place Purdue. The Hawkeyes finished sixth, the team’s best finish under head coach Randy Hasenbank. 

The Iowa men’s team is looking for a better finish this year. This Hawkeye squad features deep senior leadership and improved times from last year.

Purdue looks to be the favorite for the meet, with Wisconsin and Indiana also in the mix. After that, it’s a pretty open field, and Iowa has a real possibility of finishing fourth. The Hawkeyes currently sit fourth in the Great Lakes region ahead of Big Ten rival Minnesota. 

Mylenek finished eleventh overall at last year’s meet, good for the All-Big Ten second team. With several of the top finishers from last year’s meet graduating, a top-six finish is possible.

“I want to make a push at winning the meet. I’m going to get in that top pack again and battle,” Mylenek said.

Although Mylenek is expected to lead the pack again, several Hawkeyes will be competing for spots in the top 25. Seniors Daniel Murphy, Brandon Cooley, and Karson Sommor will all be threats to breakthrough and improve on their top 40 finishes from last year. Another factor in the race will be Luke Sampson. After being injured for all of last season, he has come back to be a key contributor to the team during his senior year.

With such a big meet coming up for both squads, it is easy for the athletes to get lost in the moment and not come prepared. However, Hasenbank’s expectations for the side have been clear-cut from the start. 

“Coach has really instilled a mental edge in all of us. We’ve known our goals since the summer, and he’s helped us progress towards meeting them through training,” senior Daniel Murphy said.

On the women’s side, the team is looking for some improvement from last year’s meet, as well.

The team finished ninth in last year’s meet, with Megan Schott finishing a team-high 41st overall. With Schott and almost every other contributor returning, as well as freshman Leah Kralovetz added into the mix, the women’s team has laid the foundation for a much better finish. 

With Kralovetz running in her first Big Ten Championship meet, she is keeping her expectations grounded after her breakout season.

“A goal I have is to rank among the top few freshmen competing with me,” she said. “I think this is a more appropriate way to assess my running, since I am only 18 and some of the girls I am running against are much older than that.”

Watch out for Schott in one of her last meets as a Hawkeye, with the often number-one runner expected to lead the pack and compete for a spot in the top 25. 

Staying together will be key for the women’s team, as the team sometimes struggles with staying together upfront.

“For the team, we want to work at condensing our front pack more,” Kralovetz said. “We have all been working hard in practices, so I believe we can really achieve this as long as we remain gritty and trustful of the plan.”

The Big Ten Cross Country Championship takes place on Saturday, with the men competing at 9:45 a.m. and the women at 10:45 a.m. 

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