The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa assistant cross country coach Shayla Houlihan leading women’s team to goal of Big Ten Championship improvement

The Hawkeyes finished 14th of 14 teams last year — a goal Houlihan aims to improve upon this time around.
Lua Rasga
Coach Shayla Houlihan is seen coaching the track team at Jacobson indoor track facility on Oct. 11, 2023. It’s coach Houlihan’s first time coaching the Big Ten Championship and postseason.

As the Iowa cross country team gears up for the Big Ten Championship meet in Madison, Wisconsin, on Oct. 27, assistant distance coach Shayla Houlihan will lead the Hawkeye women through their biggest meet of the season with goals to improve upon their last-place finish in 2022.

Last season, the Iowa women’s cross country team journeyed to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the season’s Big Ten Championship, falling short with a 14th-place finish out of 14 teams.

But this time around, Houlihan has an optimistic mindset going into the race and hopes to be steady during the storm of competition around the Hawkeyes.

“My job as a veteran coach is to remain calm through their chaos,” Houlihan said. “They don’t need to do anything special for the Big Ten [Championships], and that’s a mistake we often make.”

Houlihan recognizes the intensity of Big Ten competition, but through many years of coaching — that included a 2021 men’s Big West Cross Country Championship while leading the University of California-Santa Barbara cross country program — she has learned to treat the conference championships like any other race.

“As a young coach, I would put a lot of emphasis on it,” Houlihan said. “But if they’ve done the work ahead of time, they’re going to run the race they want.”

This year, the Hawkeye women get to determine what they want their Big Ten Championship race to look like.

Fourth-year distance runners Amber Aesoph and Brooke McKee recall the team sitting down with Houlihan early in the season to establish their goal come October: improve the team’s placement from 2022.

“[Houlihan] asked what our expectations were and what we wanted out of the season,” McKee said. “She said she would be there to guide us.”

Houlihan’s guidance includes consistent training and dedication, which will carry the Hawkeyes during tough meets like these at the end of the season.

“We’ve been training more for these bigger moments,” Aesoph said. “Now, when we get to these big meets, it won’t feel like such a shock to the system.”

So far this season, the Iowa women have set 17 new personal bests on various courses. The race plan for the Big Ten Championship is to see even more improvement by “pressing on the gas” and running as a pack.

“Each race we run, I try to have a different plan of attack,” Houlihan said.

So when the Hawkeyes land in Madison, the plan is to remain determined together as one unit.

“It takes all oars in the water, pulling forward to continue to challenge each other,” Houlihan said. “I see a lot of that happening in practice, which is really exciting.”

But veteran runners Aesoph and McKee eagerly await the opportunity to compete in their fourth Big Ten Championship.

McKee noted how her anticipation for the Big Ten Championship meet at the end of the season has only grown over the years.

“There’s definitely a lot more excitement for this race just because you know everyone who is going to be in the race,” McKee said. “I’m already getting excited just thinking about it.”

Aesoph trusts in Houlihan’s coaching, representing the team’s confidence in her training.

“As we pull back on mileage at the end of the season, we’re realizing we’re at our best,” Aesoph said. “We need to leave it all out there.”

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About the Contributors
Mia Boulton
Mia Boulton, Sports Reporter
Mia Boulton is a freshman at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism & Mass Communication, as well as exploring a possible double major in Sports Media. She works at the Daily Iowan as a sports reporter. Outside of the Daily Iowan, Mia has been a photographer for her hometown newspaper, The Record.
Lua Rasga
Lua Rasga, Photojournalist
Lua Rasga is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Cinematic Arts. She’s a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan. She comes from Sao Paulo, Brazil with previous experience in filmmaking.