2012 Iowa Conference champions
PELLA—For the first time since 2006, the Central College men’s cross country program will have a representative at the NCAA Division III championship meet. Freshman Eli Horton (Runnells, Southeast Polk HS) received the official invitation Sunday afternoon after a strong 10th-place showing at the NCAA Central Regional meet Saturday.
Horton will be part of the 280-runner field next Saturday in Winneconne, Wis. Since he needed to be one of the top seven runners in his region not on a qualifying team to advance, his qualification status hinged on at least one team from the Central Region advancing. Two teams emerged from the at-large pool Sunday, effectively stamping his ticket to Wisconsin.
The 8,000-meter race will be staged at the Lake Breeze Golf Club at noon. Wis.-Oshkosh is the host school.
“We were pretty confident that Eli would be selected,” said coach Joe Dunham. “We’re in a strong region and felt that at least one more team would be selected from the at-large pool.”
Horton led the Dutch at five out of six meets in his freshman campaign. He earned Iowa Conference runner of the week honors after taking second in his collegiate debut at the Central Dutch Inv. Sept. 3. He earned all-conference honors at the league championships Oct. 29 and all-region honors Saturday.
“Eli had great credentials coming out of high school and hasn’t missed a beat in his transition to collegiate running,” said Dunham. “Going to the national meet as a freshman is rare. He is going to be one of the best runners in the region for the next three years.”
Central last had a runner at the national meet in 2006. Four-time team MVP Adam Wolf capped his senior season with an individual berth after an eighth-place finish at the regional meet. Andy Goodman was Central’s last cross country all-American after finishing 21st at the 1994 NCAA championships. The Dutch have earned three team berths and sent seven individual qualifiers over the program’s history.
Dunham said Horton is familiar with the course.
“We ran at Oshkosh a month ago so he knows the ins-and-outs of the race,” said Dunham. “He was disappointed with how he ran there the first time so he has a little extra incentive.”
Runners finishing in the top 35 Saturday will earn all-American status.
“Any time you toe the line at nationals you should be thinking about being an all-American,” said Dunham. “If he puts forth another effort like yesterday that is certainly possible.”
Dunham believes Central’s first national qualifier in five years is indicative of the direction of the program.
“We have a young team that experienced a lot of success this year,” said Dunham. “This is a big step for program. We’ve all had a vision for this program and we’re starting to realize it. It’s a big day for Central College cross country.”