Back-to-back Iowa Conference champions (2012, 2013)
TERRE HAUTE, IND.—After qualifying for the NCAA Division III Championships for the first time in 32 years, the No. 21-ranked Central College men’s cross country team used an all-underclass lineup to surprise the pollsters Saturday morning, tying for 12th place in the 32-team field.
Unranked in the preseason, the Dutch cracked the national poll in early September at No 27. A steady rise in the rankings accompanied several strong mid-season showings, culminating with an Iowa Conference championship and runner-up showing at the NCAA Central Region meet.
It’s the best national finish in the program’s history, topping a 21st-place showing in 1980, the team’s most recent national meet appearance.
“I thought the guys ran well and competed hard today,” said Dunham. “Anytime you can run at the national meet it is a great accomplishment.”
Horton all American—Dutch sophomore Eli Horton (Altoona, Southeast Polk HS), the Iowa Conference MVP, added an all-American medal to his rapidly growing list of credentials after placing 29th in the elite field. He covered the 8,000-meter course in 25:02, just four seconds off his career best. He placed 52nd in last year’s NCAA meet at Winneconne, Wis. when he qualified as an individual. His 29th-place effort was the third-best individual showing in school history and he’s the program’s third all-America honoree. Jerry Fitzsimmons was 18th in 1979 while Andy Goodman placed 21st in 1994.
“It was a great honor for Eli to get his first all-America award,” said Dunham. “It’s product of his hard work and competitiveness.”
Meanwhile freshman Cole Decker (Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) and sophomore Drew Jackson (Johnston) obliterated their previous career-best efforts to take 39th (tie) and 56th, respectively, in their national meet debuts. Decker crossed the line in 25:08.5, well under his previous best of 25:36 and a mere three seconds from all-America status, while Jackson was 56th in 25:21.6. His career best was 25:43.
“I was really proud of Cole and Drew for running such gutsy races in their first national meet,” said Dunham.
Austin O’Brien (junior, Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley HS) was 146th (26:00.3), followed by Brent Ewing (junior, Cincinnati, Centerville) in 212th (26:28.4), Sloan Beninga (freshman, Stout, Dike-New Hartford HS) and Cody Doughan (junior, Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley HS) took 222nd (26:38.5) and 256th (27:21.3) respectively to round out the Dutch squad. Tim Nelson of Wis.-Stout was the individual winner with a finishing time of 24:26.8.
“I was pleased that all of our guys gained experience running at the national level,” said Dunham. “That’s going to be important with this program moving forward.”
Central finished with 356 points, tied with Williams (Mass.) for 12th. St. Olaf (Minn.), which defeated the Dutch in the NCAA Central Regional meet last Saturday, was 14th with 370 points and conference rival Luther was 24th with 584 points. Perennial power North Central (Ill.) won their second consecutive title with 167 points with Calvin (Mich.) and Haverford (Pa.) tied for second at 188 and Wis.-La Crosse was fourth at 190. Central’s score was the aggregate of the finishing places scored without the individual qualifiers (356 – 21, 28, 41, 107, 159).
“We were able to achieve one of our goals today in being the top team from our region,” said Dunham. “That is a big confidence boost for the guys.”
Temperatures hovered in the mid-40s at race time with almost no wind and slightly wet course conditions.
“We couldn’t have asked for better weather,” said Dunham. “But the course was deceptively challenging. We knew that going in and our guys responded to it well.”
With the end of the cross country season, the squad will now turn its attention to indoor track. A small number of runners will compete at the Iowa State Holiday Preview Dec. 7 while the rest of the squad will return in January.
“We’ll bring a few of our guys to the Iowa State meet to try and get some good times while they are still fit,” said Dunham. “But we’re focused on the track and field championship meets. I think this group can have a lot of success there.”