Back-to-back Iowa Conference champions (2012, 2013)
The Central College men’s cross country squad has momentum.
After taking over a 2009 squad that finished sixth in the Iowa Conference and 17th in the NCAA Division III Central Region, coach Joe Dunham has witnessed dramatic improvement as the Dutch finished fourth in the league championships and ninth at the regional meet in 2011. Topping off their resurgence was freshman Eli Horton’s trip to the NCAA national championships in November. Horton crossed the line 52nd and was Division III’s top freshman finisher. It was Central’s first representative at the national meet since 2006.
“The most exciting thing about the program here at Central is how far we’ve already come,” said Dunham. “We’re a young team but they’re running like they’ve been doing this for years.”
The lone loss to graduation was four-time letterwinner and team captain Andrew Hamer, but Dutch have a plethora of talent returning. Ten letterwinners will report to practice led by co-captains Brandon Clough, a senior, and junior Austin O’Brien.
“Brandon and Austin care deeply for this program,” said Dunham. “Brandon has been a leader by example for his entire career and now he has an official platform to continue that. And Austin has outstanding drive and determination. They are going to play pivotal roles this year.”
Dunham also expects sophomore Drew Jackson to play a large role in his sophomore season.
“Drew is coming off a great track season and has a lot of confidence,” said Dunham. “He is going to impress people this fall.”
Senior Brent Ewing was a varsity mainstay runner in 2011 and Dunham expects him to contribute again in 2012.
“Brent has always been one of the hardest workers I’ve coached,” said Dunham. “He’s put in a great summer and we expect big things from him.”
Other returnees with varsity experience include senior Ben Schornack, junior Cody Doughan, sophomore Tim Shepherd and sophomore Chris Sirridge.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve had such a deep team,” said Dunham. “For me to predict who is going to be on varsity this year would be very difficult. But I can tell you that we’re going to have a lot of competition for those spots and it’s only going to make us better.”
They will be joined by a small but talented freshman class which Dunham expects to make an immediate impact.
“Thankfully we don’t have to rely on freshmen to fill out our varsity anymore,” said Dunham. “But that doesn’t mean they won’t. There are some talented guys coming in and I’m sure they’ll be pushing our returners.”
Headlining the newcomers are Cole Decker of Des Moines, Kyle Nuehring of Waukee and Sloan Beninga of Parkersburg.
Dunham forecasts another highlycompetitive Iowa Conference race. Defending champion Loras, along with Luther and Wartburg should be near the top. But he isn’t overlooking his own squad.
“We compete in a high-quality conference and there are a lot of good runners returning,” said Dunham. “This group wants to win. It’s never been done here before but they have the talent and the desire to accomplish it.”
Central hasn’t garnered a national team berth since 1980, but Dunham hasn’t dismissed that, either.
“These runners have improved at the regional level every year,” said Dunham. “Our vision is to be perennial national qualifiers. It is up to them when that starts.”