Oct. 7, 2010
By Larry Watts
When Andrew Poore talks about running for Indiana, he means the state as well as the university. The redshirt junior takes great pride in the fact that all but three of the 18 members of the Hoosiers' cross country unit are home-grown products, or "Team Indiana" as he likes to call the squad.
It was the idea of former head coach Robert Chapman to challenge the state's top prep runners with the mission of rebuilding the pride in running for their state school. Poore and four other Indiana-bred runners accepted that challenge, while Jacob Laird would eventually join them after spending one semester at Purdue.
"Coach Chapman really preached to us about how good our state was and how much talent was here," says Poore, who ran for Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. "We basically all knew each other through competitions and we started talking during our junior year about going to same place together.
"When looking at schools, being able to run with people we knew was something we wanted to do and we thought as a group we could build a pretty good team. Some of the younger guys around the state started buying into the same idea and it's gotten to the point where nearly all of us are from Indiana."
But before they even had a chance to wear the Indiana colors for the first time, Chapman was gone and replaced by Ron Helmer.
"All of us were already committed when the coaching change took place, so we came up during the summer to meet with coach Helmer," Poore says. "The coach is important, but being teammates was the big thing on everyone's list."
In rebuilding the distance runners' strength, both on the cross country course and the track, the philosophy has been for each runner to take a redshirt year. With senior Cole Hardacre taking his redshirt this year, all 14 of the returning runners have managed to take one year off to build their strength.
"I know I had a lot of room to grow from high school as an athlete," Poore says. "The opportunity to redshirt my freshman year gave me the opportunity to come in and adjust to classes and a higher intensity of training on a daily basis. You often hear from athletes and coaches how different it is in college, but when you throw in the travel and stronger competition, it can be very stressful. I think we're at a point now where we don't need a freshman to come in and worry about making an impact right away."
With Hardacre taking his redshirt this year, that leaves the six redshirt juniors as the leaders of a squad still trying to battle its way back to the top of the Big Ten and onto the national scene.
"It's sort of weird because my class has been in the leadership position for two years," Poore says. "It's been our team for awhile and that has made it kind of stressful because we've had to figure out how to be good and how to compete at the highest level on our own. We really haven't had anyone to show us the way. There have been a couple of hiccups here and there, but as a group it has been very satisfying.
"We're building this on our own and feel like we're putting Indiana University back on the national scene through our own hard work and sacrifices. There's still work to be done. When we don't perform the way we want, we feel the pressure, but it's a challenge we all wanted and looked forward to."
Poore points to last year as a big building block for the young Hoosier runners. He was one of three individual All-Americans and one of two Big Ten champions from the distance group. De'Sean Turner won the Big Ten title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, where he also claimed All-America honors. Andy Bayer was an All-American in the indoor 3,000 while Poore was All-American after taking eighth in the indoor 3,000 and claimed the 5,000 title outdoors in the Big Ten.
"When you start getting national qualifying marks, that in itself is very exciting," he says. "That's been one of our goals and now we can look forward to not only qualifying but also scoring points and shooting for medals at the NCAA meets. Our goals are to be a podium and trophy team at the NCAA Championships."
According to Poore, he had a bit of a roller coaster ride last season. He hit a high in the fall when he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors with a 10th place finish in cross country and then a fourth at the region meet, but he broke down at his first NCAA meet and finished a disappointing 137th.
During the indoor track season, he posted the second-best time in Indiana history in the 5,000 (13:48.88) and qualified for the national meet after taking third in the 5,000 and sixth in the 3,000 at the Big Ten meet. Seeded ninth in the longer race, Poore had a meltdown on the first day.
"It was a nightmare race, the worst possible race I could have had," he says. "I knew I had a chance to score points for our team. It was my first time on the track in a national meet and it was really deflating."
Poore had to gather himself in order to come back for the 3,000 the next day.
"I did not know how I was going to show my face after getting lapped in the 5,000," he says. "I was embarrassed to walk into that stadium because people notice you if you get lapped. I was seeded last in the 3,000 and, because of that, I convinced myself it wasn't going to be as stressful."
With four laps remaining, Poore realized he was in position to score for his team. He started kicking past some runners and finished eighth (8:15.76) and earned All-America honors.
"It was like an outer body experience," he says. "I'm not the fastest runner on the track, so to out-kick people like that was incredible. I must have passed four or five people on the last four laps and didn't move into scoring position until the final 50 meters. I went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs that day and I was really proud of the way I had persevered."
On the outdoor oval, Poore has stuck with the 5,000 but traded the open 3,000 for the 3,000 steeplechase, where he has combined with Turner to form a solid scoring punch for the Hoosiers. Turner claimed the Big Ten title last spring while Poore took runner-up honors.
"Running the steeple was a mutual decision after discussing it with the coaches," he says. "I realized the good steeple runners had similar times to my personal bests in other events, so I felt like I could make an impact right away if I put in the work. I didn't score a point that first year and last year I was second, so I guess that hard work paid off. I feel like now I not only can score points in the Big Ten but on the national level as well."
But at the regional meet for the NCAA last year, Poore concentrated only on the 5,000, where he won the Big Ten title with a time of 13:49.23, seventh-best in Hoosier history. He not only qualified for the NCAA Championships, but he wound up 13th in the 5,000, one spot from All-America status.
"It just goes to show you what a strange sport this is and how mentally tough you have to be all the time," he says. "I went from getting lapped in the 5,000 at the NCAA indoor finals to winning the Big Ten title and placing 13th outdoors in the same event. That was just one year and I still have two more to go."
Although he put the steeplechase on the back burner for the NCAA finals, Poore did come back to compete in it for the USA Nationals later in June. He wound up 15th, one spot from making the finals.
"I missed the finals by one second, but I still have a lot to learn in that event," he says. "I believe I have a lot of untapped potential in the steeple. With the help of some talented teammates, I think this is going to be a very good event for me over the next two years."
Although the Hoosiers lack senior leadership this fall, Poore strongly believes the team is on the brink of something big on the cross country trails.
"The focus of the team is the Big Ten title," he says. "We feel we are at a point where we can run our best and beat anyone in the conference. But Wisconsin has won it the last 11 years and they deserve to be favored until they lose. Programs like Michigan State, Ohio State and Minnesota are always very good, so we just need to make sure we run to the best of our ability."
An economics major, Poore figures he will follow his father's footsteps and head off to law school after graduation. However, he does want to stay involved in running as long as possible.
"If track and field is over when I graduate, then it (law school) is a very realistic possibility," he says. "Running has been such a big part of my life and I feel like I can do half-marathons and marathons for a long time.
"But no triathlons. I am a horrible swimmer and would need to wear a life jacket at all times."