KOKOMO, Ind. — Indiana University Kokomo's cross country team expects great achievements in their second season.
They've already gained one milestone, with the men's team winning its first meet championship, at IU East. The women finished a close second in their competition.
Jon Flory, one of the veterans returning from last year's first team, said they know greater things are possible.
"Last year, we were building a program, and we were just excited to have a team," he said. "This year, we want more, and we can do more. To win our first meet, that gave us a huge burst of confidence, and we can set bigger goals than last year, when we just didn't want to finish last."
Their finish gave them an idea of what they could achieve, and served as notice that the Cougars are ready to compete this season, Coach Jason VanAlstine said.
"We beat two teams that beat us last year. I don't think anyone saw that coming," VanAlstine said. "That is a great way to start the season. Our guys are as tough as anyone out there."
As seasoned competitors, the teams is setting goals for their first-ever appearance in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship meet, set for Saturday, November 9, at Midway College, Midway, Ky.
"We are proud to be the first team with IU Kokomo on our chests in the conference in this sport," said Cody Phelps, a second-year runner from Anchorage, Alaska. "We are making history for our school."
Flory, 19, a junior criminal major from Logansport, said one of their strengths is that they don't rely on one star runner, but have several who can contribute to their team score.
"We have several solid runners who can give us good, solid times," he said. "Even more important, we are a true team. I love our camaraderie. I love being around the guys. You have a nice support group."
In addition to the veterans, they have new runners, some who have high school cross country experience, like Bradley Jakes and Breanne Robertson, and others, like Tyler Lucas and Emilie Hubbard, who have never run cross country before this season.
The rookies appreciate support from their more experienced teammates, Lucas, a marketing major from Kokomo, said.
"This is my first year running at all," he said. "You have to take it one day at a time. I like to challenge myself. I had never run a competitive race, and they let me know I had to pace myself."
Flory noted that their new teammates have worked hard to get up to speed.
"They've done a good job pacing themselves during these first few meets," he said. "These races can get physical, especially at the start and finish, and they've handled that well."
They are all thrilled to use the newly opened Milt and Jean Cole Family Fitness and Wellness Center for training, and for showers after practices. Veteran Amy McCauley, 19, a sophomore physical therapy major from Greentown, said last year, they drove to the YMCA in downtown Kokomo to shower.
"We're happy to have our own place on campus, to be part of the community," she said. "The women's team has been doing core training in the Cole Fitness Center, and we expect to use it even more for weight lifting during the off season. I think you will see us make even more progress for next year because we have the fitness center.
VanAlstine added it would be a key tool as he recruits team members for next season.
"This is the kind of facility a potential student likes to see," he said. "That, on top of our outstanding faculty, and wide variety of academic programs, is going to be attractive to potential team members. It's already making a difference for us."
Whatever the team's record is for the season, he is proud to be their coach.
"My philosophy is, we measure our success based on how the athletes improve this season, and how we do at conference," he said. "These athletes are high quality individuals, high character individuals. I'm proud to have this team represent IU Kokomo. They work hard, and they take care of each other."
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.