Updated: Jan 13
The Cyclones enter the year as a podium threat once again, but with a group that looks quite a bit different than what we saw last fall. As one of the teams impacted by the transfer portal carousel, Iowa State lost a key member of last year's squad, but picked up more than adequate enough replacements.
Gone is Andrew Jordan to Washington and coming in is Addison DeHaven from Boise State and David Too of Florida A&M. With the favorite to win the individual title leading the way, the Cyclones have a squad that can compete with anyone in the country. In 2019, they will have the perfect mix of youth and experience that most teams dream of.
To bounce back from a very solid, but slightly underwhelming finish at Nationals last year, Iowa State will need their newest roster additions to make a big impact in 2019.
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Iowa State entered the 2018 season with a number of expectations. They returned their entire top seven plus they added Edwin Kurgat to a team that finished 7th in the country in 2017. If anyone had a shot at taking down NAU, it seemed like the Cyclones were a good bet to do so.
The season started with a sweep at the Hawkeye Invitational, but their first big test was at the Nuttycombe Invitational. Finishing runner-up was Edwin Kurgat who challenged eventual national champion Morgan McDonald for most the race. However, besides Festus Lagat who was 23rd, the rest of Iowa State's 2019 returners didn't necessarily standout. Milo Grder was 68th in that race while Chad Johnson crossed the line in 118th. Overall, the team still had a very solid performance, earning a 4th place finish ahead of top-tier programs like Boise State and Colorado State.
For a team with podium aspirations, 4th place in any meet besides Nationals wasn't ideal, but they were only 17 points behind Wisconsin while also having to deal with two of the best teams in the country (NAU and Portland). In the grand scheme of things, there was a lot to like about their first big showing.
Coach Martin Smith opted against running any more regular season meets, meaning that we wouldn't see the Cyclones again until the BIG 12 Championships. As expected, it was Edwin Kurgat who led the way with an individual win while Jordan and Curts were 5th and 6th overall. Underclassmen Greder and Johnson ran very well to earn 9th and 11th place finishes in what may have been the two best cross country races of their careers.
With five men in the top 11, Iowa State was able to hold off a hard-charging Oklahoma State team to win yet another conference title. It wasn’t a perfect performance as only five runners finished for the Cyclones, but it was a solid step in the right direction.
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Fast forward to the Midwest Regional Championships where Iowa State yet again established their superiority over the rest of the field beating 2nd place Bradley by a whopping 64 points. Kurgat picked up his second straight victory while Curts and Jordan finished inside the top 10. The most encouraging performances, however, were the efforts put in by both Johnson and Greder. Then-freshman Chad Johnson (no, not the football player) was only getting better every single week as he grew more acclimated to the NCAA scene. Additionally, Greder, after a slow start, was coming on in a big way towards the end of the season. These two would be key for the Cyclones as they headed to Nationals.
With a fresh blanket of snow covering the group in Madison, Wisconsin, the Cyclones were able to stay competitive, but were unable to improve upon their 7th place finish from 2017. Instead, they repeated that finish.
Kurgat did his best to secure individual gold as he chased McDonald and Fisher to the line to finish 3rd, but Jordan and Curts were a little further back than expected. On the bright side, underclassmen Johnson and Greder put in very solid performances of their own. Johnson finished 61st overall (sixth among all true and redshirt freshmen) while Greder improved tremendously from his 2017 performance to finish 84th overall.
Even though they finished 7th again as a team, there were a lot of positives to take from the day and the year in general. Kurgat went from being an All-American to a title favorite while Johnson and Greder took big steps forward in terms of their overall fitness. Obviously, Iowa State will greatly miss Jordan and Curts in 2019, but they have two new runners who will, at the very least, prevent any decline.
That duo? Addison DeHaven and David Too.
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DeHaven, the former Boise State runner, has a knack for rising to the occasion at the perfect time. Last year, he finished 28th at Nationals and in 2017 he was 31st. DeHaven has consistently peaked when it matters the most and he has significantly outperformed his results from earlier in the year. Following a strong spring that saw him run 14:01 and 29:02, he should be a very solid #2 option for Iowa State behind Kurgat.
And honestly? He only needs to be good them for at Nationals...
Too, on the other hand, has never run at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, but has run extremely well so far for the Cyclones on the track. After running PR's of 7:59 (3k), 13:51 (5k), and 29:07 (10k), the former Florida A&M runner should slot into the third spot seamlessly. The transfer from a mid-major program has shown major improvements in his first year with the Cyclones very similarly to what we saw from another mid-major transfer one year ago (Kurgat). If Too follows the same trajectory that Kurgat did (which so far seems to be the case), then Iowa State will have a scary top three.
It's difficult to say what we should expect from Johnson and Greder other than they should make significant improvements. Johnson did very well in his first year with the Cyclones, posting performances similar to what we saw from Andrew Jordan in 2016. Regardless of their potential, both Greder and Johnson will provide reliable scoring in the second half of Iowa State's lineup this fall.
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But if you thought those runners were all that this team had, you'd be wrong.
Coach Smith will have a few more options to fill out the remaining two spots of his varsity lineup. Two returners who could plug those holes are Festus Lagat and Thomas Pollard.
More of an 800 meter runner, Lagat flashed some impressive range by finishing 23rd at Nuttycombe before going dark for the rest of the season (potentially due to injury?). If Iowa State wants to get back on the podium, Lagat doesn't need to be a superstar, he just has to be good enough. Still, anything close to that 23rd place finish from Nuttycombe would be extremely well-received.
On the other end of the spectrum is Thomas Pollard who ran a very nice 5k (14:03) and 10k (29:45) this past spring. After dealing with medical issues and the ensuing recovery process for the past two years, Pollard seems to have fully regained his fitness. Don't forget that this is the same guy who finished 45th at the 2016 NCAA Championships. If he comes anywhere close to that in 2019, Iowa State could be more than just a potential podium squad.
Two freshmen who will look to push their way onto the varsity team are Matthew Meinke and Tim Sindt. Meinke comes to Iowa State as one of the top recruits in the country. With PR's of 4:15, 8:59, and 14:49, the Wisconsin native has the wheels to help the team as soon as he toes the line. With a 34th place finish at NXN and a 16th place finish at the Footlocker Midwest Regional Championships, it's clear that Meinke he has a shot at contributing this fall.
Then we have Tim Sindt who has run 14:51 for 5000 meters while also winning the past two Iowa state titles in cross country. He didn’t lose a single race last fall and while we don’t necessarily expect to see that streak continue at the collegiate level, it does show that Sindt could go up a level once he starts training and competing against better talents.
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When you begin to put the pieces of this roster together, you quickly begin to realize that Iowa State is one of the deeper teams in the nation. However, the key for them this season will be the continued improvement of their younger runners. It will be Johnson and Greder who decide how far up the Cyclones finish. If they are All-Americans or just outside of the top 40, then Iowa State has a real chance at pulling off an upset victory, especially if Festus Lagat and Thomas Pollard are in the lineup. Yet, even if they aren't, this will still be a team in the podium mix.
With a revamped squad, Coach Smith’s Cyclones will look to improve upon their finish from last year and get onto the podium.
And with all of the new talent that Iowa State now has, it will be hard to bet against them...