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Women's cross-country to continue youth movement in Wisconsin

BY ELDON GIANNAKOUROS | OCTOBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa women's cross-country team will have a chance to prove its season of setbacks is a thing of the past on Saturday against the country's best competition at the Wisconsin Inter-Regional.

"I would say this is one of the bigger — if not the biggest — [regular season] meets in Division-I history," coach Layne Anderson said. "To have this type of field and this number of ranked teams on the same course on the same day at the same time is very rare. The only other time we would do this would be the NCAA championships."

Difficult tests await in the field of ranked runners in Madison, Wis., including defending NCAA champion Sheila Reed of Villanova. But Anderson and his squad have managed to string some successful performances together this season while avoiding traditional disappointments such as injuries and missed opportunities.

This newfound rhythm has allowed them to prepare for Saturday's meet with some confidence and the hope that they can right past wrongs as they enter Big Ten competition.

"I'm excited because I think we're strides ahead of where we were last year," sophomore Megan Ranegar said. "Hopefully, that's indicated on Saturday."

Ranegar and junior Kelsey Hart kept stride with the team's top runners at the Loyola Invitational in Chicago on Oct. 1, rounding out the scoring with ninth- and 10th-place finishes. While it's unlikely that repeat top-10 finishes are in the cards for the pair this weekend, Anderson said he feels his Hawkeyes may still be major contributors against nationally ranked runners.

"Both are ready, [and] both are in the best shape of their life," he said. "They feel good, they're confident, [and] they're healthy. Wherever they end, up I would expect — if the weather cooperates and they get out and run — they'll have a good shot to run lifetime-best performances over the 6K distance … they're running well enough to be excited about their potential."

The Black and Gold can give freshman Kayla Beattie credit for a fair portion of their current momentum; Beattie took third place at the Loyola Invitational two weeks ago, just ahead of training partners Brooke Eilers, McKenzie Melander, and Betsy Flood. Beattie said her lead was part of a larger team performance, an element of the sport on which the Hawkeyes have focused this season.

"We ran together as a team; I wouldn't say anyone was really leading, it was a team effort," Beattie said.

Anderson has scaled back his expectations in terms of numeric placement considering the multitude of ranked teams waiting in Madison, but he said he still expects a strong race from Beattie. He said Beattie and the seniors that led the pack in Chicago didn't feel they had tapped their full potential over the course of that race.

"Kayla said — as did others — that they felt really good with the effort, but they didn't feel like it was overly taxing. A six or seven on a scale of one-to-10 is how they said they'd categorize the level of difficulty," Anderson said.

Beattie said she was looking forward to the meet as another chance to compare herself with college competition and to find her place in the Big Ten.

"Getting our first 6K in will be a good opportunity to see where we stand," Beattie said. "Coach Anderson is stressing to us that we're not at peak fitness right now. We're not where we're going to be at the end of the season, but we're pretty close."

The Hawkeyes' lofty goals this season are no secret, and Anderson said strong finishes in Madison will be key as they prepare mentally and physically for both the Big Ten meet on Oct. 30 and the NCAA championships in November.

"To be able to do this [meet] in-season is just a fantastic opportunity," he said. "It's something we need to be ready for — and I think we are."


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