Back-to-back Iowa Conference champions (2012, 2013)
PELLA—In their first taste of championship meet action this fall, the Central College men’s and women’s cross country squads will contest the Iowa Conference titles Saturday in Cedar Rapids.
Men labeled favorites in coaches’ poll—After being tabbed sixth in the Central Region preseason coaches’ poll, the Dutch men quickly climbed in the rankings and have held the top spot for four consecutive weeks. Central Region membership includes all Iowa and Minnesota Conference schools, as well as perennial power Nebraska Wesleyan.
Central claimed easy victories at the Central Invitational and Grinnell Les Duke Invitational in early September, then continued with impressive performances at the Minnesota Roy Griak Invitational Sept. 29 (4th of 27 teams) and Wis.-La Crosse Jim Drews Invitational Oct. 13 (3rd of 26 teams). Currently, the Dutch are No. 24 in the national poll produced by U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Only No. 6 Wis.-La Crosse, No. 8 Wis.-Eau Claire, and No. 20 Wis.-Platteville have defeated Central this fall.
The Dutch have never won a league title. Central narrowly missed a championship in 1981 after a 43-44 loss to Luther capped a four-year string of runner-up finishes. Central also lost a 31-35 decision to Luther in 1979.
“We’ll have our challenges this weekend,” said coach Joe Dunham. “Not only are we a young team, but this is probably the strongest field the conference has had in recent history.”
In addition to the Central, Loras, Wartburg, and Luther have been ranked in the USTFCCCA top-35 poll during the season. Loras currently checks in a No. 35 and Wartburg is receiving votes.
“Our goal is to win the meet,” said Dunham. “Our men understand our history and the significance of what this means for our program and our alumni.”
Women vying for top-three finish—The Dutch won the inaugural Iowa Conference women’s championship meet in 1981 and claimed another title in 1985. Trophies have eluded Central since then, but the Dutch has solidified their spot in the upper tiers of the conference after finishing in the top three at the league meet five of eight past years.
Despite a string of untimely injuries, Central has stayed competitive in 2012. The squad has finished in or near the top half of every contest. But the Dutch appear to be close to full strength in time for the championship season and have created optimism for a strong finish.
Central is unranked in the regional poll, but finished just one spot behind ninth-ranked Grinnell in the team standings at the Wis.-La Crosse Tori Neubauer Invitational Oct. 13.
“Coming off our best race of the season at La Crosse, we have some momentum and we’re excited to see what we can do at the conference meet,” said Dunham.
Wartburg and Luther are expected to finish in the top two spots, while Central and Loras will likely be competing for third.
The conference titles races will be contested at Noelridge Park in Cedar Rapids. The men’s championship is slated for 11 a.m. while the women will run at noon.