Women's cross-country waits to unleash top runners


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Women's cross-country coach Layne Anderson's sleeve is still bulging with aces two meets into the 2011 season.

Anderson's major talent — senior leaders Betsy Flood, McKenzie Melander, and Brooke Eilers, as well as promising freshman Kayla Beattie — sat out of the team's first two meets.

Anderson said his decision to sit some of his top runners reflects their desire to live up to the expectations they've placed on themselves for this year.

"In the back of their minds, the girls realize the potential to be a lot better than our ranking. If we fire on all cylinders, especially at the end of the season, we feel we are a much better team than our ranking shows," Anderson said. "We're not concerned with that right now; we're more concerned with getting our best people to the end and having them be at or near their best.

"If we do those two things, this has a chance to be an outstanding year."

Anderson has called this year's team, ranked No. 28, the best he's had in his nine years of coaching, and the depth the Hawkeyes showed in their first two outings may prove him right.

On Sept. 16, the squad showed it didn't necessarily need its cannons to string together a strong set of finishes. The women's squad, led by junior Kelsey Hart, trumped Northern Iowa, 15-45.

"Kelsey Hart winning the meet was just what we had hoped for; we hoped an Iowa girl — one who might not otherwise win the meet if we ran some of our top people — would get in there and do that and get a real confidence boost she could use going forward," Anderson said.

Melander said she hasn't minded staying out of the action early in the season, because it has given her a chance to see the benefits of the work she's put in from a different perspective. And while there are some major benefits to the experience of competition, she said she believes she's more than prepared to race, no matter when her season actually begins.

"The benefit of being a senior and being through all these seasons is that, hopefully at this point, I know how to race," she said. "It's a long season; we're just getting a lot of good base training in right now, so hopefully, that will be beneficial for us later on and we'll actually run our best when it really counts."

Flood echoed Melander's sentiment.

"In the past, we've definitely competed a lot earlier than this year, but we've also peaked to soon. This year we're trying to be more patient," she said.

Anderson said he plans on putting together the best group of competitors possible for the Loyola Lakefront Invitational on Oct. 1 in Chicago. Melander, Eilers, Flood, and Beattie will compete, but Flood said she feels onlookers still might not see the best the Hawkeyes have to offer.

"We're ready to race, for sure," she said. "We've gotten a lot of good training in, but the goal is still to run our fastest races in November."

The team is focused on getting to the NCAA championship. Melander nearly qualified for nationals as an alternate during her freshman year, and she said she's hungry to make the impact she missed out on as a freshman and lead her team to Terre Haute, Ind., in her last season.

If the energy and the optimism pouring out of Anderson and his squad are any indication, she isn't alone in this goal.

"The sky's the limit," the coach said. "We're healthy top-to-bottom, and hopefully, we'll be able to continue saying the same thing each and every week."

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