IU Kokomo’s men’s and women’s cross country teams will kick off the eighth season next week, as the teams will be hosted by the American Legion in the first-ever home cross country meet.
Since the program began in 2012, the teams have grown exponentially in numbers and talent. This year, the Cougars felt confident enough in its growth and staff to finally begin hosting a meet near campus.
“We’ve talked about it for a while,” Head Coach Jason VanAlstine said. “We still have a few years before we’re going to host our conference meet. We wanted to put together a small meet early in the season this year, kind of figure some parts of this out. Get out there [with a] small number of teams, compete, hopefully give them a really good experience and then next year kind of build upon that. We’re excited. I’ve had parents asking me for I don’t know for how long when we’re going to have a home meet. We’ve always kind of treated Indiana Wesleyan as our home meet and invited everybody to that because it’s so close, but this is right across the street.”
Details for the race still are being finalized, but the proposed direction of the 5K course will be to begin on the LaFountain Street side of the golf course, across the bridge, loop around the Industrial Heritage Trail twice, come back across the bridge, and finish near the starting line. The idea is to have the start and finish close to the clubhouse/parking lot, which also would be closest to campus, according to VanAlstine. The Cougar staff also is working to make the course as spectator-friendly as possible.
Since half the men’s team is incoming freshmen, this course will be a good way for them to compare their improvements from high school 5K times to now, VanAlstine said. The men will not have that opportunity the rest of the season, as they will be running the usual 8K races, whereas the women continue to run the 5K distances.
“In college, guys go from 5K to 8K. Girls go from 5K to 5K, so it can be a big jump,” Assistant Coach Josh Colvin said. “I think on the girls’ side, we’ve always had one or two strong girls in the past, so that’s kind of helped us. We have a great pack of girls that we don’t know where they’re going to be with freshmen coming in and some of the girls coming back. Then on the guys’ side, we’ve never had a front runner since Javier (Vasquez) graduated (in 2016), so we rely on a big pack. We’re hoping a couple of these guys can kind of turn into front runners too to make our team just a little bit better on the guys’ side.”
In the River States Conference (RSC) preseason poll, IU Kokomo’s women’s team was voted third out of 12 with 89 votes. Standout sophomore Lexi Jackson will be returning to the Lady Cougars after making it to nationals in cross country last year, as well as in track last season. After Jackson, there are a few returning varsity juniors and seniors who will benefit the team, as well as some impressive incoming freshmen.
The men’s team was voted eighth out of the 12 teams in the RSC preseason poll. There are about nine solid runners who could propel the team forward at conference, according to VanAlstine. Two of the men still are recovering from preseason injuries, however. Junior Adam Rood is returning as the top runner for the Cougar men after stellar cross country and track seasons, as well as senior Jordan Fivecoat, and junior Sam Phillips has worked hard in summer training to make it in the top seven on the team.
The community is invited to show support for the inaugural race at the American Legion golf course next Friday, Aug. 30. The women’s race begins at 6 p.m. with the men’s race following at 6:45 p.m.
VanAlstine thanked the American Legion for donating part of the golf course for the event.