1981 NCAA Div. III champions
2012 Iowa Conference finish: Fourth place
2012 NCAA Division III Central Regional finish: 12th place
Starters lost: 2 (Mel McDermott, Shelby Mendoza)
Starters returning: 5 (Emma Nelson, Alyssa Eaves, Amanda Dunkin, Mallory Welk, Molly Bramble)
Letterwinners lost/returning: 4/7
The Central College women’s cross country team was excited with last year’s season-ending performance, but disappointed in the outcome. Fifth-year head coach Joe Dunham believes those feelings will carry over to this season and spark the team.
“It was a bittersweet reaction to how the season finished,” said Dunham. “We finished fourth (in the Iowa Conference), which was good, but we felt we had the potential to finish higher. We ran very well and we looked back at how we competed and were happy. But if you would have told us that we would run that well, we would have expected a higher finish. It put a hunger in our women to come back stronger and get ready for this season.”
The Dutch graduated top runner Mel McDermott, but return three of the top five runners and a few others who gained varsity experience. Seniors Amanda Dunkin and Emma Nelson and junior Alyssa Eaves will be this season’s tent poles.
“Mel was the cornerstone of our team and a strong part of our program,” said Dunham. “She was a great leader. It will be tough to not have her and to not lean on her during those tough meets. But Mel leaves a great legacy. Amanda had a great track season and showed improvement. Emma and Alyssa will both be huge for our team, as well. Those women, along with our incoming class, provide a lot of optimism for our program.”
Associate head coach Stephen Fyfe also sees the potential in the returners to step into that top spot.
“We are excited for the season. It is tough to lose Mel, but it will be interesting to see who steps up as the top runner,” Fyfe said. “We have three or four people who have the potential to be No. 1. Alyssa, Emma and sophomore Elin Phipps are all strong candidates to lead the team. Other seniors, Amanda and Daphne Baumgartner, realize it is their last year and had awesome preparation this summer. I think they will surprise themselves and others.”
Baumgartner and Phipps both posted top-six team finishes at invitationals last season.
Sophomore Molly Bramble also competed in varsity competitions last season and is expected to contribute this year, Fyfe said. Junior Mallory Welk and freshman Gabi Wilson of Clive have the talent to be in the mix, as well.
Seven freshmen make up an incoming class that Fyfe believes will solidify the entire lineup, both now and in the future.
“The incoming class is a good, solid class,” said Fyfe. “There are many people who have the opportunity to contribute and push our varsity runners. Maleaha Earnest of Hedrick, Lexi Des Planque of Newton and Andie Arthofer of Zwingle all have a chance to earn varsity spots. Cassidy Gornick of Norwalk is a very hard worker and will compete, as well. Kasey Wiedmaier of Indianola is more of a middle-distance runner, so cross country will be a nice challenge.”
In the classroom, the women’s cross country team received the team academic award for the third consecutive year from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Central’s women held a collective 3.35 grade point average. To receive the distinction, a team must have compiled a score at the NCAA regional championship and have a cumulative GPA of 3.1 or better.
“We put a major focus on our academics with our teams,” Dunham said. “It is important to us as coaches and important to our student-athletes. That is why they are at Central; to get a great education. I am proud of our team and I think we can continue to improve. Anything we can do to broaden that experience is the right approach.
“We want to continue to get better and strive for the best. We are a young team, which provides some obstacles this year, but I believe we have a good core for the future.”
“Our theme for the season is why not?” said Fyfe. “As in, when we set goals, why can’t we do that? We are shooting for improvement. It will be interesting because our first race and last race are on our course. How much can we improve from the first to the last? That will be a strong emphasis for us this year.”
The Dutch run a four-invitational regular season schedule this year and end with the Iowa Conference championships, followed by the NCAA regional and championship. The regular season begins and ends in Pella, with the Central Dutch Invitational on Sept. 7 and the conference championships on Nov. 2. The schedule is set up for Central to run once every two weeks.
“The consistency of the schedule helps our preparation,” Dunham said. “We added one meet and we are traveling to Wis.-Eau Claire instead of Minneapolis this season. The bi-weekly competition schedule is a trend in cross country lately and we do it to control our training. It helps us put in quality efforts at every invitational and allows us to stay focused academically, as well as athletically. It is a win-win situation. Running and traveling every weekend is tough on the body, as well. There are a lot of reasons for our set-up.”
The schedule also adds pressure to each invitational and places an increased importance on which invitational is scheduled.
“It is important to run versus the teams that we will be facing at the national level,” said Dunham. “Running once every two weeks makes it vital to compete versus top programs in those meets.
But in the end, all roads lead back to Pella.
“The team is really excited about hosting the Iowa Conference,” said Dunham. “Our course is tougher than most championship courses, but consistent with most regional courses. It is our course and our home and we are excited to host a championship event in Pella. These events make Pella relevant in the world of cross country and should spark some interest in the community. It is important for our student-athletes to compete on a big stage at our home course.”
Dunham is assisted by Fyfe and assistant coach Jonathan Graupmann. Fyfe is in his 15th year on the cross country coaching staff, while Graupmann is new to the staff this year.
“Coach Fyfe is a rock,” Dunham said. “He is a solid entity of this program and has done big things here from helping with the design of the course to recruiting to writing workouts. He does a great job and is a major reason that our program has advanced. Jonathan is coming in this year and has tremendous credentials. I could not be happier with the support staff within our program.”
The Dutch open the season by hosting the Central Dutch Invitational on Sept. 7.