Iowa men’s cross country freshmen making immediate impact

Three freshmen on the Iowa men’s cross country team are contributing to the Hawkeyes’ depth.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa’s Will Ryan competes in the Men’s 6k during the Hawkeye Invite at the Ashton Cross Country Course in Iowa City on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. Ryan finished in 5th place with a time of 18:53.38.

Jake Olson, Sports Reporter

Iowa men’s cross country had a problem with depth in 2021. Outside of then-junior Nick Trattner and then-senior Noah Healy, the Hawkeyes had trouble scoring points with the rest of the team.

Now, Healy has graduated, and the Hawkeyes are looking for new runners to step up and contribute. And Iowa may have found them in three newcomers.

Three freshmen on Iowa’s cross country team led the Hawkeyes in the Hawkeye Invite at the Ashton Cross Country Course on Sept. 2. Miles Sheppard, Will Ryan, and Hayden Kuhn all cracked the top six in the event, leading Iowa to its first meet win.

With veteran runners like Max Murphy and Trattner out for the race, Iowa was putting a lot of faith into its depth.

Iowa’s depth and cross country was greatly impacted in 2020 because of COVID-19. Runners that came in as freshmen missed an entire season because Big Ten canceled the fall season. The only event in 2020-21 was the Big Ten Championships on Jan. 30, 2021.

Now, runners are suffering from a lack of training and competition.

“As far as last year goes, the depth was affected greatly by the COVID year,” Iowa cross country coach Randy Hasenbank said. “Sophomores on paper missed virtually everything with the competitions in the fall. They didn’t have any experience in 8K and 10K.”

The lack of training for those longer races hurt the Hawkeyes, especially later in the season. In races like the Big Ten Championships and NCAA Midwest Regionals that were held in fall 2021, Iowa showed a lack of fitness in the longer distances.

Iowa finished 11th out of 12 teams in the 2021 Big Ten Championships and 13th out of 25 teams at the NCAA Midwest Regionals.

Now, with a new trio in freshmen that can step up to the plate, Iowa is looking for the younger running to immediately contribute.

“I just want to help the team out as much as I can,” Ryan said. “If that means I am helping the team score points or if that means I am helping the team get better every day. I am just here to do whatever the team needs.”

Along with three new promising freshmen, the Hawkeyes also have seven of nine runners who appeared in the 2021 Big Ten Championships returning.

While Ryan was scared to join the Hawkeye cross country corps at first, he quickly blended into the team.

“When I came in, I thought the seniors or juniors were going to mean,” said Ryan. “They have been super nice and have been helping me out with laundry or trying to get to practice on time. They have also shown me how to perform our workouts correctly.”

RELATED: Iowa cross country sweeps season-opening Hawkeye Invite

The Hawkeye freshmen struggled at the Big Ten Preview in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Sept. 9. Sheppard was the only counting runner in the Hawkeyes’ lineup, finishing 36th overall. Ryan finished 46th, and Kuhn was 52nd.

The biggest challenge for younger runners is the jump from the 6,000-meter to the 8,000-meter race. The Hawkeye Invite was some of the runners’ first time running the 6,000-meter competitively and making the distance jump is crucial for postseason success.

But despite the freshmen’s early struggles, Hasenbank believes his young runners are up for the challenge.

“This group is coming in with a little higher volume than most freshman classes,” Hasenbank said. “Typically, you lean on your veterans to cover those long distances, but this is a talented group that could jump in and help out.”