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Harriers look to seniors

BY ELDON GIANNAKOUROS | OCTOBER 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa women's cross-country team entered the 2011 season full of raw talent, both from experienced returning runners and strong prospects.

But the Hawkeyes' performance at the Loyola Lakefront Invitational showed their opponents may have more to contend with this season than simply a handful of individual stars. A pack finish for the Black and Gold — Iowa took third, fourth, fifth, sixth, ninth, and 10th place on Oct. 1 — demonstrates the team dynamic they have striven for over the past few years may finally be up and running.

"It was an awesome feeling," senior Brooke Eilers said. "Prior to this year, we've always gone in with the mentality that we'd stay together in a pack, but I don't think we ever really executed it quite as well as we did on [Oct. 1]. To be able to do that … made the meet a lot easier and a lot more fun."

Fellow senior Betsy Flood said teamwork has been a focus for the Hawkeyes in the past, but they hadn't been able to reap the benefits because of some mishaps at key moments.

"Our team has been focused on the dynamics over the last two years, but we've had a lot of disappointments so far," Flood said. "This year just seems more exciting; things are going right, and no one is injured. Hopefully, the disappointment will pay off, and everything will go well."

This new cooperative focus can be attributed in part to Eilers, Flood, and McKenzie Melander. The three seniors have emerged as leaders and role models for their teammates with their high competitive skill levels and close relationships with each other.

"They're lead-by-example-type girls," head coach Layne Anderson said. "They're all great students. They're all extremely hard workers. They're exactly what you would want in a college athlete in every aspect of their lives, and they're just people who their teammates love and respect. When you have the love and respect of people around you, that makes you a much better leader."

The three upperclassmen are also able to lead with mutual respect and equality because they seem to stack up quite evenly in practice and in competition. At the Lakefront Invitational, they were within seven seconds of each other as they crossed the finish line.

"They're all closely matched; they're training step-for-step, [and] everything for each has been nearly identical," Anderson said. "It's exciting to have three people who are not only at a high level but also very comparable in their abilities. Rather than challenge each other and really compete for those spots, I think they've seen this as an opportunity to work together and maybe better prepare [other] people."

The trio's choice to lead as equals rather than struggle for dominance may also be attributed to the relationships they have built over four years of training and competition together.

"We're all best friends, [and] to be able to be best friends outside of practice contributes to our success," Eilers said. "Even though running is a huge part of our life, it's not everything we have. We have each other."

Flood said she feels her relationship with Eilers and Melander is similar to the relationship the team has as a whole.

"I wouldn't even say it's just us three that are leaders," Flood said. "Everyone the team is a great leader. If people are feeling down one day, another person is going to be there feeling good to bring you back up. It's just nice to have so many people who want the best for everyone else on the team."

The collaboration that has driven them in practice for years is finally making itself known in competition as well, Eilers said.

"We can kind of sense how we're all feeling and adjust from there, and then that just carries over into the race," Eilers said. "It was the result of doing workouts together and feeling comfortable, and that comfort carried over to the race on [Oct. 1]."

It may be over a week before the Hawkeyes have a chance to prove the true extent of their talent — their next event is the Wisconsin Inter-Regional on Oct. 14 — but the last race showed the team is already more than parts of a whole.

"[The Lakefront Invitational] was really exciting for our team, just seeing how much depth we have and how much potential we have for the rest of the season if we all stay healthy," Flood said.


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