Men's cross-country hopes to finish on positive note


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Before the start of the season, the Iowa men's cross-country team had one firm goal: qualify for the NCAA national meet. But injuries and a few disappointing results have slightly tamed those hopes.

At the NCAA Midwest Regional meet on Saturday, the Hawkeyes' goals will be more internal, head coach Larry Wieczorek said.

"I think we've probably tempered our expectations a bit," he said. "But we can control how well we run there, run to the best of our ability, and finish up on a positive note."

A prolonged injury to Nick Holmes — which unexpectedly kept him out for the whole season — and a ninth-place finish at the Big Ten championships on Oct. 31 have toned down Iowa's goals. Further lowering their sights is the difficult regional to compete in, featuring top-ranked Oklahoma State, No. 8 Oklahoma, and top-30 teams Minnesota and Tulsa.

Senior captain Mark Battista maintained that the team has a chance to qualify for nationals, but admitted the goal "changed a bit" after the Big Ten meet.

But despite the setbacks, Wieczorek and his runners say the team has something to gain by running well this weekend.

"Even if we don't go [to nationals], if we just go out there and all run the way we know we're capable of running, I think it would be a good day," Battista said.

Wieczorek said the team's performance this weekend would have an effect beyond the cross-country season. The 24-year head coach said it's important for the team to succeed now in order to build some momentum for track season.

"I don't think this team can afford to play out the string and wait for track," Wieczorek said. "If you don't compete tough now and make progress, you've just wasted a good opportunity."

The team may have lowered its sights from nationals, but Iowa's goals are loftier in the individual portion of the race. Wieczorek said Battista and sophomore Jeff Thode have good chances to qualify for the NCAA meet individually, and junior Sam Bailin could "if he ran the best race of his life."

Four runners in the meet from non-qualifying teams earn an invitation to nationals. Both Battista and Thode said their goals were to be among those four if the team failed to reach the meet. Thode, who is looking to build on his All-Big Ten performance at the conference meet, said he has his sights set on a top-15 finish.

Battista said he hoped for a second consecutive All-Region honor — he placed 25th at the meet last year — as well as an individual NCAA invitation.

"It could be my last race in cross-country, so I don't want to leave anything behind," Battista said.
As important as the meet's results, Wieczorek said, is the progress the team makes.

"We're developing as distance runners from now until June," Wieczorek said. "It's important to me as a coach that we go in there and maybe upset a team that's ranked ahead of us, so we can say, 'We laid the groundwork for track, and we laid the groundwork for next season in cross-country.' "

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