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Now or never for men’s cross-country

BY SEAN MORGAN | NOVEMBER 13, 2009 7:20 AM

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After a disappointing Big Ten championship performance — the Iowa men’s cross-country team finished sixth — the Hawkeyes aren’t exactly in the catbird seat heading into this weekend’s NCAA regional meet at Missouri State.

Without a chance to win its region and earning an automatic bid to the national championship meet, Iowa will have to rely on a “complicated qualification system” if the Hawkeyes want to extend the season.

Iowa head coach Larry Wieczorek isn’t letting the difficult odds confronting his team hurt his optimism, though. As far as the 23-year head coach is concerned, Iowa is still in control of its own destiny.

“The system is really cut-and-dried,” Wieczorek said. “It’s somewhat complicated, but it’s completely objective. There is zero subjectivity in deciding who qualifies. We are hoping to get in by strength of schedule.”

For Iowa to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA championship, it will need to earn points for beating teams that are qualified for the meet. Unlike in football, where Northwestern’s win over Iowa knocked the Hawkeyes out of national-title contention, a weaker team beating a stronger one in cross-country simply means the victorious underdogs will get bumped up ahead of the powerhouse.

In cross-country, Northwestern would have been considered for a BCS bid, instead of simply hurting Iowa’s hopes for one.

“If we can go into the regionals and knock off a team that is ahead of us, such as Iowa State, Minnesota, or Tulsa, the win would push us up instead of blocking them, bringing us into consideration,” Wieczorek said. “We have wins over Auburn and Texas A&M, so if we keep that up, we could take our chances into our own hands.”

Helping Iowa’s chances will be the physical progress of cocaptain Brendan Camplin and sophomore Nick Holmes, who have been injured for the majority of the season. Both ran at the Big Ten championship, but with another two weeks of recuperation, the two Hawkeye leaders should be back in top form.

“Last week, they shook off the rust, being out almost all season,” Wieczorek said. “They both are going into [the meet] at a high note, both mentally and physically.”

Perhaps no aspect of the Hawkeyes’ game plan stands to have the greatest effect on their championship chances than the success or failure of All-Big Ten runner Jesse Luciano and freshman star Jeffrey Thode.

While Thode has been the more successful of the two for the majority of the season, Luciano had a better showing at the Big Ten championship, in which Thode faltered because of poor execution of running strategy. Thode will need to rebound for the Hawkeyes to stand a chance.

“I felt really bad that race,” Thode said. “I didn’t have a good race like I usually do. I never stayed consistent in my pace and died off in the end. I’ll need to settle into a pace [at the regional meet], so I can push it in the end.”

Luciano’s thoughts on his team’s chances revolve around a more team-oriented approach. He noted the team needs to perform better if it wants to take the next step.

“Our No. 3 to 5, or No. 3 to 7 guys need to stick together during the race,” Luciano said. “When you run in a pack, it just makes things easier, physically and psychologically. If there are teammates beside you, you know who you will be letting down if you slow down.”


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