PELLA— The No. 20 Central College men’s cross country team, vying for a fourth straight national meet berth, will try to use its home course to an advantage, hosting the NCAA Division III Central Region Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships for a second consecutive year.
The 6,000-meter women’s race starts at 11 a.m. followed by the 8,000-meter men’s race at 12:30 p.m. at the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex course.
The Central Region features 30 women’s teams and 29 men’s teams from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The teams will face off in an effort to qualify for the Division III national meet Nov. 22 in Winneconne, Wis. The top two teams from each side and the top 10 individuals not on either of those teams will automatically advance.Sunday, 16 at-large berths will be given from the eight regions to complete the 32-team field.
Coach Joe Dunham is ready to show off the course to the rest of the region.
“It’s great to represent Central College to the entire region,” he said. “We are an institution set up well to host. We have a great staff and we couldn’t have put together a better team to coordinate this event.”
The Dutch runners are hoping to get a leg up running at home.
“We have been on this course multiple times training throughout the year,” Dunham said. “That should give us a little advantage against the tough competition.”
Overtaking the Oles—If the Dutch men are to win their first regional crown in school history, they have to take down three-time defending regional champion St. Olaf. The fourth-ranked Oles took second at the national meet last season and have been atop the regional rankings all season. Central competed in the St. Olaf Invitational Sept. 19, taking fourth in the 20-team field while the Oles won the title.
Central earned national berths the past three seasons, placing 12th in the nation in 2012, sixth in 2013 and 11th last year.
Central was third in last year’s regional, behind St. Olaf and Iowa Conference foe Loras. The No. 19 Duhawks won the conference title this season, edging the Dutch by seven points and a total of four seconds at the league meet Oct. 31 at Dubuque.
The Dutch will lean on the services of back-to-back conference champion Cole Decker (senior, Des Moines/Dowling Catholic HS) to lead them back to the national race. Decker took 20th at the regional race last year.
“Cole is really confident right now,” Dunham said. “He’s feeling good and has stayed healthy. We are excited about the opportunity that he has in front of him.”
The Dutch are looking to prove they are among the nation’s elite.
“The conference race did not end the way we wanted,” Dunham said. “We have to put that behind us and focus on qualifying for nationals.”
Carleton going for back-to-back—After the Wartburg women won the Central Regional for three consecutive years from 2011-13, Carleton (Minn.) took the crown last season and is in prime position to do so again. The No. 14 Knights are the highest-ranked member of the Central Region and have been atop the regional rankings all season. St. Thomas (Minn.) and Cornell are the only other Central Region schools nationally ranked, coming in at No. 24 and No. 32, respectively.
The Dutch women will try to improve on their 15th-place finish from last year. Central is coming off a fourth-place finish at the conference race.
“Our women have really developed over the season,” Dunham said. “They have put in a lot of hard work and have set their sights on a better finish than last season.”
Sophomore Holly McKinney (Saint Charles/Interstate 35-Truro HS) has led Central in every race this season and will play a big role if the Dutch want to compete with the best. She took 14th at the conference meet.
“Holly has had a great season,” Dunham said. “She will have a great opportunity to get toward the front and compete with the best runners in the region.”
After running in sub-freezing temperatures at last year’s regional, the teams are looking forward to the high-50s forecast for Saturday.
“It should be very comfortable for the runners,” Dunham said. “Hopefully there will be a breeze to keep them cool and it will be a great day to run.”
Meet information, including course maps, are available on the regional championship website at http://www.central.edu/athletics/cross-country-regionals/. Meet results will be posted there immediately after the races.
Story provided by Alex Cooper