The Boise State cross country teams are leading the way for what could be the school’s next program to gain national attention.
Corey Ihmels, in his third year as the track and field and cross country coach, has built two teams expected to contend for top-10 finishes Saturday at the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky. All of the racers scheduled to compete are returning next year.
And most notably, freshman Allie Ostrander is the favorite to win the women’s race.
Ihmels has built his coaching career on success with distance runners, and he’s building the Boise State program the same way.
“You’re going to start seeing some things happening in (sprints and field events) now because we’re getting some success,” said Ihmels, previously the head coach at Iowa State (2007-13). “Their recruiting has been very good. We’re going to get good in cross country, we’re going to get good in the distances and then we’re going to speckle it with some other events and that’s how you become a top-10 track team.
“That just makes sense here in Boise. But it takes time. It’s taken some time to get to the point where we’re talking about cross country, and it’s going to take a few more years before we’re talking about track. But it’ll happen.”
The eighth-ranked women are making their second NCAA appearance. They also went last year.
The men, ranked No. 26, are making their second appearance, too. The previous trip was in 1996.
The women’s team sent three freshmen, four sophomores and one junior to Louisville. The men sent four freshmen and four sophomores.
“We try to focus more on the present than looking into the future, but it’s hard not to sometimes,” Ostrander said, “because it’s just really exciting to think about what we can do, especially since we’re not graduating anybody this year.”
Ihmels has been pushing to get both cross country teams to nationals and post a pair of top-10 finishes since he arrived. But he’s surprised how quickly that goal has become realistic.
“To be honest with you, we probably skipped about 10 steps to get here,” he said.
One big shortcut: landing Ostrander. Arguably the nation’s top high school distance runner, she chose Boise State over track powers Oregon and Arkansas.
Ostrander posted a stunning win at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational in record time Oct. 16, won the Mountain West title Oct. 30 and won an NCAA regional meet Nov. 13.
“It was a big surprise,” the Alaskan said of her success. “I didn’t expect to be doing this well.”
She already has beaten her top rivals for the NCAA title, Ihmels said, but it won’t be easy to beat them again. A freshman hasn’t won the women’s race since 1985.
“I don’t necessarily feel the pressure,” Ostrander said. “I think mainly because I’m a freshman. I see it as just my first go at it and if I don’t perform as well as I’d like to I have a lot more years to improve on that.”