Cross country travels to Stillwater for NCAA Regionals

Iowa travels to Oklahoma for NCAA Regionals, the final race for many Hawkeye seniors.

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Jenna Galligan

Iowa’s Nathan Mylenek picks up speed as he approaches the finish line of the men’s 6k during the Hawkeye Invitational at Ashton Cross Country Course on Friday, September 6, 2019. Mylenek finished second with a time of 18:16.0. The Hawkeyes defeated six other teams to finish first overall for both men’s and women’s races.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

For the Hawkeyes, NCAA Regionals in Stillwater, Oklahoma, is the team’s longest journey yet, and for several cross country seniors it will be their last meet of their careers.

“I’m really excited to give it all I’ve got, just more motivation that it may be one of my last meets,” senior Daniel Murphy said.

After finishing ninth out of 14 teams in the Big Ten Championship, the women’s side is looking to grow off what many thought was their best performance of the season.

“I was so proud of my team as a whole for how well we executed the race,” Leah Kralovetz said. “It was the best race of our season by far.”

The Hawkeyes currently sit in 10th place in the Midwest regional standings, a crowded field without an obvious best team.

The slim margin is exemplified by the fact that current No. 1 Illinois finished just three spots ahead of Iowa. With such a tight field, Iowa knows that execution is the key to having another big meet.

“What our team is looking to improve for this race is to have a close spread and run more as a pack,” Kralovetz said. “The best teams in our conference achieve this tactic, so in order for us to get to that level, we need to continue working at this.”

The women will race at the 6k level again, which has benefited the team down the stretch. In the Big Ten championship meet, Iowa steadily shaved off points to hold off a late surge from Nebraska.

If the Hawkeyes can stick together and get more athletes into the top 25 of the race, then they should be poised to have an even bigger meet than at the Big Ten Championships.

On the men’s side, the team is looking to bounce back after a disappointing Big Ten Championship meet where the team finished 10th out of 12 teams.

RELATED: Mylenek, Kralovetz, lead cross country at Big Ten Championships

“On the men’s side overall, huge disappointment,” head coach Randy Hasenbank said. “To this point we had put together a nice season and had high expectations for this Big Ten meet.”

The team fell five spots in the regional poll and now sit at No. 9 in the rankings. The competition does not get easier, with four conference champions and three nationally ranked squads in the mix at this week’s meet.

Despite the previous shortcomings, one meet has not affected the team’s big picture goal for the season.

“Putting ourselves in the best possible situation to get a bid to NCAAs is the goal we’ve had all season and is what we’re shooting for,” said Murphy.

The key for Iowa at regionals is to keep the pace steady throughout. At the Big Ten Championships, the team had a strong start with many athletes running inside the top 25. However, the aggressive approach did not pay off as the team went from third at the 2000-meter mark to 10th by the end of the meet.

With this weekend’s meet being a 10,000-meter race, the Hawkeyes must be especially wary of keeping a steady pace throughout the race. This will be the first time this season the team races at the distance, but Nate Mylenek and Brandon Cooley have had success at the distance in the past. Mylenek has the fastest 10k time in Iowa history, while Cooley sits ninth on the list.

Today’s women’s 6,000-meter race begins at 10:30 a.m., while the men’s 10,000-meter race begins at 11:30 a.m.

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