Men's cross-country faces top competition in MN

BY BEN ROSS | SEPTEMBER 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men's cross-country team will travel to St. Paul, Minn., to compete in the Roy Griak Invitational this weekend.

The competition will feature top teams from throughout the country, including No. 10 Portland, No. 13 North Carolina State, and No. 24 Minnesota. The meet will be held at the Les Bolstad Golf Course on Saturday, and the men's competition will begin at 12:20 p.m.

Iowa will compete without its best runner, junior All-American Jeff Thode, for the second week in a row. Thode won't attend the meet because of a family emergency.

This is the first time since 2008 that the Hawkeyes will compete in the invitational, making this weekend a showcase of talent for Iowa's young runners to witness.

Head coach Larry Wieczorek said he's excited about his runners' opportunity to race against top competition, and this weekend will be a learning experience for his younger runners.

"This is what cross-country is all about," Wieczorek said. "There will be big-time athletes, and the course consists of lots of rolling hills, twists, and turns. It's really a good challenge that will educate the runners. This is the type of course you run on, run against; it should be an eye-opener for our younger guys."

This weekend is also the first time teams can begin earning points that count toward qualifying for the NCAA cross-country championships, which will be held in Terre Haute, Ind., in November.

Although it might be tough for the Hawkeyes to gain points without Thode, senior Chase Kadlec said he isn't too concerned. He said he's more focused at the task at hand: running well as a team.

"I'm not worried about scoring points," Kadlec said. "Hopefully, we can put together a good race as a team. Hopefully, Nick Holmes and Kevin Lewis will get out there and put on a good show for us."

One might expect that the high-caliber atmosphere of the meet may cause some of the younger, less-experienced runners some anxiety leading up to the event, but sophomore runner Jon Michael Brandt said he isn't nervous and just wants to work on keeping his mental focus.

"We just have to keep cool," the Winona, Minn., native said. "The meet will be just like always; the only difference is that there will be 300 other people on the course with us. We can't get too worked up over earning points. We're just going to race and not worry about the score."

Wieczorek has been trying to develop what he calls "interchangeable parts" for his teams, especially without its best runner not competing for the second-straight meet. Although it's difficult to replace Thode's talent, the 25-year head coach said he thinks his runners can step up.

Though this meet may mean big things down the road for Iowa, Kadlec said he still believes this race isn't any more or less important than the past two competitions for the Hawkeyes.

"We're still practicing the same," the senior from Wheaton, Ill., said. "I think we'll be fine. We're not building up this meet any more than it has to be."

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