Cyclone Men Wrap Up Best Season In Recent Years
AMES, Iowa – The Iowa State men’s cross country season came to a close with senior Mohamed Hrezi crossing the finish line at the NCAA Championships, becoming the first Cyclone All-American since 2008. The 2013 campaign was filled with bright moments, including Hrezi’s accomplishment.
This year, the men’s team competed under new leadership, as Iowa State director of track and field and cross country Martin Smith led the Cyclones back into the national discussion in his first season as head coach. Smith was pleased with how his team was able to improve its performance on the course week after week.
“Overall the season was a strong start in building our program,” Smith said. “The transition went very smooth and the men on the team were able to maximize their performances throughout the year.”
The squad first turned heads when it showed it was capable of running with some of the nation’s best at the Lehigh Paul Short Run. Iowa State placed fifth in the 47-team field, finishing just 21 points behind Harvard, which achieved national rankings as high as No. 21 during the regular season. The Cyclones ran as a pack, a strategy they would use effectively throughout the season, running the tightest spread across teams finishing inside of the top 15. All five scoring runners crossed the finish line within 25 seconds.
The Cyclone runners’ ability to quickly adapt to Smith’s training methods and race strategy also impressed the new coach.
“I was surprised to see how fast the men were able to make the transition from the summer workouts and dive right into the fall training and really take hold of the team concepts we instilled back in August,” Smith said. “The team’s adaptability was certainly a factor in the team's approach this season and played a major impact on the season's results.”
Following Paul Short, the team opted against competing at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational in favor of gaining extra time to train for the conference championships. That decision would pay off in a big way.
At the Big 12 Championships, the Cyclones were pitted against top opponents in then-ranked No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 27 Oklahoma and No. 29 Texas. Iowa State was not intimidated and finished runner up to Oklahoma State behind All-Big 12 showings from Hrezi and Martin Coolidge, finishing seventh and 14th respectively. Again, the x-factor for the Cyclones was running as a pack. All scoring runners finished in the top-20, running a 22-second spread.
The second-place finish tied Iowa State’s highest team finish at the Big 12 Championships (1997).
The conference race also marked the first time since 2009 that the Cyclones have had two runners earn all-conference recognition, and the team’s second-place finish lifted the team into the national rankings, coming in at No. 24 in the coaches’ poll.
Entering the NCAA Midwest Regional, Iowa State needed to finish in the top two to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships. The Cyclones faced stiff competition in Oklahoma State, Tulsa and Oklahoma, who ranked as high as 1st, 9th and 27th during the regular season. Iowa State would finish third behind Oklahoma State and Tulsa, but Hrezi’s fourth-place individual finish would be enough to qualify for the national championships as an individual.
The Cyclones had three runners earn All-Midwest accolades in Hrezi, Coolidge and junior Alexander Dillenbeck, each finishing among the top-25 individuals. This was the first time since 2008 that Iowa State had at least three runners earn all-region honors.
Though the season had reached its end for most of the team, Hrezi would continue to train for the NCAA Championships in hopes of accomplishing his career goal of becoming an NCAA All-American. He would need to finish among the top-40 individuals to earn the title.
The Cyclone faced formidable conditions in 30-degree temperatures and a course that was wet and muddy from excessive rain earlier in the week. Despite having to battle the elements, Hrezi was able to place 24th overall, notching the highest Cyclone men’s individual finish since 1995 (Dimitry Drozdov, 25th). The Naugatuck, Conn., native finished the 10-kilometer race in 30 minutes and 35 seconds.
At times, runners don’t get the recognition they deserve for their in-race contributions. Dillenbeck is one of those runners according to Coach Smith. Smith was quick to point out Dillenbeck’s efforts after the conference race, calling him the pack-leader. During races, Dillenbeck was responsible for quarterbacking the squad, calling moves and helping the other runners execute the team strategy. The Aurora, Colo., native filled the same role at the regional meet and was a key factor in the team’s success.
Smith believes the key to continuing to build on the team’s successes comes from a strong season on the track.
“The future of the program is going to rely on the development of our runners through the indoor and outdoor track seasons as well as through recruiting,” Smith said. “Our team has a very positive outlook after taking a nice step in the right direction this season.”