TERRE HAUTE, IND. – The Indiana State men’s and women’s cross country teams will be in Madison, Wis., on Friday for the 2012 Great Lakes Region Championships with a bid to the NCAA Championships on the line. The Sycamores compete in what many term the toughest region in the nation, a region that includes many Big Ten and Mid-American Conference teams along with a few from the Missouri Valley, Big East, and Atlantic 10.
“The Great Lakes Region is usually the toughest regional in the country, especially depth wise,” John Gartland, Indiana State women’s cross country coach, said. “We finished 15th in the region championship a year ago which was actually one of the highlights of our season. I think that we can hold onto that top half position. That certainly is our goal.”
The Sycamore men have raced against most of the competition already this season and are looking forward to the championship Friday.
“We have raced against most of the competition except for Wisconsin who most teams have not seen because they did not race their full team except at the Big Ten Championships,” John McNichols, Indiana State men’s cross country coach, said. “We have raced against most of those ranked ahead of us in the poll so I think we know exactly what is ahead of us and what we have to do.”
The race will be held at Zimmer Cross Country Course with the women’s 6,000 meter run starting at 1 p.m. (ET) and the men’s 10,000 meter competition at 2:15 p.m. (ET). The top two teams and the top four individuals not on one of those teams (providing they finish in the top 25) will automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships. A total of 13 at-large teams and two at-large individuals will be selected on Sunday to fill the NCAA field.
McNichols believes that four or five teams may make the NCAA’s from the Great Lakes Region this year.
“This year I think maybe four or five will go from our region,” McNichols said. “That will help if our team puts it together and it will also help for some of our individuals to qualify if we do not make it as a team.”
The veteran Sycamore coach has seen Indiana State go into the region championship and exceed expectations before, something that he has reminded his athletes of.
“We were fourth in 2009 and had three make the All-Region team,” McNichols said. “I remind the team of that 2009 squad because we went into that race without our number one runner, Scott Keeney, who had a stress fracture in the vertebrae on his lower back. On paper it didn’t look promising but everybody went into the race understanding that they had to do their job. We put together an outstanding race. In most years that would have been good enough to go to nationals as a team but only three made it.”
The Sycamores will have John Mascari, Al Escalera, Dustin Betz, Tristan Selby, Gabe Ocasio, Taylor Head, and Corey Hahn competing in the men’s race with Jessica Zangmeister, Nicole Lucas, Kalli Dalton, Hanna Mercer, Lindy Jones, Kylee Thacker, Shelby Sands, and Amy Hicks competing in the women’s race.
“I am confident in our top three,” McNichols said of his men’s team. “Obviously John has had an outstanding year. Al has had an outstanding career in cross to this point and likewise with Betz. Our four and five guys have done a great job this year. They are just young and you never really know for sure how they are going to respond to the intensity of the competition.”
Mascari won the Missouri Valley Conference individual championship this year to become the first Sycamore to win the men’s race in school history. He was named the Male Athlete of the Year for his accomplishment. Betz was fourth at the MVCs with Escalera fifth giving Indiana State three in the top 10 and each receiving All-Conference recognition.
“Both John and Al are suited to the longer race as well as Tristan,” McNichols said of the upcoming 10,000 meter race. “Betz is more of a speed guy but is very strong, a steepler in track, and has done well in the 10K before. Taylor, Gabe and Hahn are more typical middle distance to moderate and longer distance runners. This is a find out time for them as it will be their first 10K. I am confident in their training. We will just have to see how they execute.”
The Sycamore women have a solid front four but have lacked a consistent fifth runner.
“We may have that problem again this week because we are now missing a few more people,” Gartland said. “However, the kids that are trying to get to that position to help the team have improved.”
Zangmeister has led the Sycamore women this season and placed 10th at the 2012 MVC Championship to earn All-Conference recognition.
“Zangmeister was our number two finisher a year ago at this meet,” Gartland said. “Our goal for her is for her to finish in the top 25 which would make her All-Regional. That will be a tough goal but I think she can do that based on the performances she has had all year.”
Lucas, Dalton and Mercer have also been very solid for the Sycamore women this year.
“Lucas has been very solid in our number two spot and I think she can improve greatly from a year ago,” Gartland said. “Both Dalton and Mercer have had very good seasons. Kalli will improve on what she did a year ago but Hanna did not run in this race last year. I look forward to them being in there this year.”
Hicks, Jones and Sands have alternated throughout the season at the number five spot.
“Lindy and Shelby are getting the chance to run a big meet for the first time so that will be a real good experience for them,” Gartland said.
Teams competing at the Great Lakes Region include Akron, Ball State (women only), Bowling Green, Butler, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Cleveland State (women only), Dayton, Detroit Mercy, Eastern Michigan, Evansville, Indiana, Indiana State, IPFW, IUPUI, Kent State, Marquette, Miami of Ohio, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oakland, Ohio, Ohio State, Purdue, Toledo, Valparaiso, Western Michigan (women only), Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Wright State, Xavier, and Youngstown.
The 2012 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships will be held on Saturday, Nov. 17, in Louisville, Ky. The championships return to Terre Haute in 2013 after a one year absence.
Wisconsin Great Lakes Region Championship Web Site: http://www.uwbadgers.com/sports/m-xc/Great-Lakes-Regional-2012.html