Even though the Iowa Lakes Community College cross country program will be looking toward a couple of freshman to help fill out its lineup, the Lakers certainly won't be lacking in leadership and experience entering a new season.
Sixth-year head coach Molly Struve's squad has excellent numbers with 13 runners out for the sport and three sophomores (two women, one man) returning who participated in last fall's national meet.
"This year we have more women than men, which is the first time this has happened since I have been head coach," said Struve. "Our women's team is looking very strong with eight total women. We have some really great talent coming in and two top returners that will bring experience."
Key returners on the women's team are 2011 national qualifiers Melissa Gjerde and Sydney Park. The top incoming freshman is Leah Courtney of Guthrie Center. Courtney, a first team all-conference cross country runner last season, placed 34th at the 2011 Iowa state cross country meet and finished fourth in the 800-meter run at the '12 Iowa state track and field meet.
Sophomore Luke Hinton is back for the men's team after earning Academic All-Region honors last season. Andrew Kruger leads a freshman class of four after capturing all-Siouxland accolades his junior and senior years at George-Little Rock/Central Lyon.
"Our top male and top female runner both have four years of experience in both high school track and cross country," Struve said. "They were all-conference runners and Leah placed fourth in the 800-meter run at the Iowa state track meet this past May. I am looking forward to having a solid, experienced runner on each team. Also, our returners will be a great strength for us this year as well. All three of these athletes have the college running experience and know what it will take to be successful."
Struve says that the initial adjustment to competing at the collegiate level will be the biggest hurdle for her team.
"Since 10 of our 13 athletes are new to college cross country, and are all true freshman, they will need to learn to manage their time between cross country and academics while living away from home for the first time," said Struve. "We have been practicing for two weeks now and they are starting to realize the strain this training can put on their body – both mentally and physically – I think this will be a challenge for some of the athletes to balance."
Iowa Central and North Iowa Area Community College look to be a few of the stronger teams that Iowa Lakes will face this season.
"In our region, there are four schools that have both a cross country and a track team. These teams usually place the best, since they have larger rosters and a lot of athletes that cross over to both sports," said Struve. "However, I do think that our women's team will place in the top five at some of the region competitions. We have a strong women's team and I look for them to be very successful this year. On the men's side, I foresee us placing sixth or seventh in our region, as long as all of the men stay healthy and injury-free.”
Click here to learn more about Iowa Lakes Cross Country.
The 2012 Iowa Lakes cross country team includes (front) Karen Gonzalez, Sydney Park, Alyssa Ayers; (middle) Sam Piehl, Kayla Stenberg, Melissa Gjerde, Emilee Hanson; (back) Andrew Kruger, Luke Hinton, Leah Courtney, Kyle Kephart and Teague Anderson.