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Iowa cross-country optimistic about conference meet

BY ELDON GIANNAKOUROS | OCTOBER 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa women's cross-country team will try to shake off an underwhelming performance at the Wisconsin Inter-Regional as it tries to capture its first Big Ten title on Oct. 30 at the Big Ten championships in Champaign, Ill.

The Hawkeyes defeated several Big Ten rivals at the Inter-Regional, but defending conference champions Michigan State eluded them — the Spartans came in ninth, well ahead of the Black and Gold's 18th-place finish.

But senior Betsy Flood said she's confident the team can put together a stronger performance in Champaign than it did in Madison.

"Everyone is still capable of running better than she did, and we've shown that in practice," Flood said. "It wasn't a motivating meet, but it was good to get a bad one out of the way."

Senior Brooke Eilers said she hopes the team will be able to regain its top-dog mentality heading into the Big Ten championships. It's an attitude that has served the harriers well in the past and as recently as a first-place finish the Loyola Lakefront Invitational on Oct. 1.

"At Loyola, we knew we were going to go in and win the thing, and we had a lot of confidence. At Wisconsin, we were a bit more timid and not quite ready to take on that level of competition," Eilers said. "The past week and a half, we've been trying to get back to that Loyola confidence.

"We're just going in — this might sound cocky — but we're going in with the mindset that we're the best ones there, and everyone's going to have to try to beat us."

Coach Layne Anderson said he shares his leading athletes' optimism, but he said Michigan State might not be Iowa's only worry in a field of talented and hungry competitors.

"It could be nothing more than a handful of points between first and fourth [place]; the other teams are in the same boat we are," Anderson said. "Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin — I think they're all right there with a legitimate shot to win. They believe it, they have the people to do it, [and] they've raced well enough to do it. It's all about execution now."

The competitive field means the Black and Gold can't afford any of the missteps they've had in previous seasons. Anderson, who remembers last season's Big Ten championship as a missed opportunity, said he hopes to change that this year.

"We started the season with a lot of optimism and we had a couple of bumps along the way — a couple of meets where it didn't go particularly well — and I thought we went into the Big Ten [meet] believing we had a shot but not really convinced," he said. "We came in with a giant question mark, and the day just did not go well on any level. We finished well below where we would have expected to finish."

But Anderson is coaching a healthy, motivated squad this year, and he said the absence of hurdles and pitfalls that have traditionally plagued the team late in the season has been refreshing. Now, Anderson sees a golden opportunity to secure a coveted milestone.

"We're excited," he said. "The weather's supposed to be good, the girls are ready, and optimism is high. Now, all that's left to do is get out there on Sunday at 11:45 and see if by 12:05 we can win the first [women's cross-country] Big Ten title in school history."


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