Sept. 6, 2011
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Layne Anderson guided the University of Iowa women's cross country team to 10th place at the 2008 NCAA Championship. He thinks the 2011 Hawkeyes have the potential to be better.
"I think this has the chance to be our best team," said Anderson, who is in his ninth season as head coach. "All I can do is compare what the girls have done to date to the 2008 team. We have people that are every bit as good as our front runners, but we have a lot more depth."
Iowa boasts a team with experience with the return of seniors Betsy Flood, Brooke Eilers and McKenzie Melander. Add talented newcomers Kayla Beattie and Mareike Schrulle and the Hawkeyes have a 1-5 capable of performing at a high level.
Flood was an all-region and second-team All-Big Ten selection as a junior, while qualifying as an individual for the NCAA Championship. Eilers and Melander have three years of collegiate experience, while Beattie is a USA Today All-USA high school track and field team selection.
"We have five girls that are legitimate all-region performers," said Anderson. "We've got a number of girls behind that front five that are at a better stage and further along than our four and five were the year we finished 10th. If we get anything remotely close from the front three, then we're going to be right there for something significant."
With the number of experienced runners, Anderson is taking a cautious approach with his team after missing out on nationals the past two years.
"We felt like we had the people, and the season leading up to the midway point, but then the wheels came off a little bit... that lends itself to more of a conservative approach," said Anderson of the 2010 season. "When you have talented groups, you don't have to push as hard to get at much. This group, if they get to 85 percent of what their max potential is, is going to be outstanding."
Through the early portion of training, Anderson has praised the leadership shown by the seniors.
"We have some great senior leadership in Betsy, Brooke and McKenzie," he said. "I think the freshmen really connect with them, and they're doing a really good job of keeping everybody patient and keeping a real positive attitude in practice.
"This is, by far, the best group of athletes I have ever been around in terms of how they take care of themselves day-to-day, and the overall atmosphere on the team."
With the experience, talent and team cohesion, Anderson has the pieces in place to get the Hawkeyes back to the NCAA Championships. In the process, he wants his team to be patient and take it one day at a time.
"We're focused on taking our time and letting the season unfold," said Anderson. "We'll take each challenge as they come, one meet at a time, and come back and get ready for the next one. It's all about putting our best people on the line at the end of the season when the stakes are the highest."