2012 Iowa Conference champions
Six of the top 10 runners from last year return for the Central College men’s cross country team, yet few spots are secure as a deep and talented freshman class will create a competitive practice environment in 2011.
A young team mustered a seventh-place Iowa Conference finish last fall, but coach Joe Dunham is confident the Dutch are poised for better things.
“We improved last year throughout the season and we want to continue to do that,” he said. “We’re focusing on getting better. We’re not going to talk about where we finish, but I know the guys want to improve our showing at the conference meet.”
Sorting out a regular lineup is the immediate challenge. Of the team’s 29 runners, 23 are freshmen or sophomores, and with youth comes inconsistency.
“We’ve really got to keep communicating with these kids,” Dunham said. “We don’t want to let any of them become disenchanted just because they have a bad workout or a bad meet. That’s going to happen to all of them at some point.”
Like the Dutch women’s team, there’s just one senior on the roster. But Dunham thinks his team can lean heavily on senior Andrew Hamer, who is in his second year as team captain. He posted top-10 finishes at the Central and Lamb-Kohawk meets.
“Andrew has been a leader for the team ever since he got here,” Dunham said. “I’m extremely proud of him. He’s really represented the program well and is excited to get after it in his senior season.”
Sophomore Austin O’Brien had Central’s best performance at the conference meet, placing 17th before taking 90th at the regional.
“Austin had a somewhat frustrating track season as he was dealing with an injury,” Dunham said. “But he’s had a huge summer. I’m really excited about the leadership he can provide, even as a sophomore. He’s got a lot of talent and will contribute week in and week out.”
Junior Brandon Clough was in the No. 4 or 5 spot most of the way last year and could climb higher this fall.
“Brandon probably improved more than any runner on the team,” Dunham said. “He had a great track season. He really came into his own, dropping his times in both the (5,000 and 10,000-meters). I have big hopes for him.”
The Dutch also get a boost with the return of junior Brent Ewing. Dunham had high hopes for him as a freshman, but Ewing was sidelined by injury, then transferred to McNeese St. for his sophomore year before landing back at Central.
“I’m excited about what he can bring to the team with his experience and leadership,” Dunham said.
Among the other veterans are sophomores Nathan Good and Cody Doughan. Good was in Central’s top seven at the regional meet after flirting with varsity status much of the season, while Doughan cracked the top seven in three meets as a freshman.
“They’ll be key components to any success we have this year,” Dunham said.
The large freshman class should be the best of Dunham’s three-year tenure. Among those rookies he’ll watch closely are Eli Horton of Runnells, Drew Jackson of Johnston, Jordan Burns and Justin Burns of Cedar Rapids, Timothy Shepherd of Knoxville, Jamie Vander Veer of Harvey, Nathan Thiessen of Davenport, Aaron Brown of Grimes, and Chris Sirridge of Crystal Lake, Ill.
“Every single one of these guys has the potential to be in the top seven,” Dunham said. “I’m really excited about what this class can bring to the program. They have a lot of ability and we want to harness that and use it in practice to help develop these runners.
“We want to build more competition within the team. I think we need that.”
Dunham expects the Dutch to rise within the conference, but knows the league remains stacked with stiff opposition. How far Central can climb is unclear in the preseason.
“There will be great teams across the board in the conference,” Dunham said. “But you never really know who’s going to be good until you start racing.”