Rod Couch

Boise State Cross Country Program on the Rise

Former Iowa State head coach Corey Ihmels has transformed Boise State into a nationally-respected team in cross country in two years. Ihmels has set high ambitions for the program and for his student-athletes, and is enthusiastic about what lies in store for the Broncos.

When Corey Ihmels left his alma mater, Iowa State University, to become the new head coach at Boise State, he carried with him numerous accolades--his student-athletes at Iowa State won seven national championships, they won 67 All-America honors, the Cyclones captured two Big 12 championships, and Iowa State finished in the national Top 10 at the NCAA Cross Country Championships six times.

What brought this accomplished coach to Boise?  "It was a place that my wife and I always thought we would retire to.  It's one of those places in the country that I've always felt like the potential was limitless.  With the foothills and everything that Boise has to offer, I think it's a sleeping giant.  With the football team's success, there's a good brand, the weather's great for training, and the quality of life is just tremendous "

Ihmels reflected on last year's success, but also noted that the goals remain the same.  "Obviously, we had a great crew last year, led by Emma Bates and Marisa Howard.  We walked away from that meet (the Mountain West Championships) with both individual champions (David Elliott and Bates) and freshman of the year (Emma Hyyppä and Andrew Rafla).  But our expectations don't change.  Every year, our expectation is to get to the national meet and try and be a Top 10 team."  

Ihmels was fortunate to have inherited great athletes such as Bates, Howard and Elliott, but it isn't a stretch to say that he transformed those runners into being the best that they can be, getting them to raise the bar higher and to set higher goals for themselves.  Bates has said that Ihmels helped her get to the next level, winning the national championship in the 10,000 meters and finishing second at the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships and third in the 2014 Cross Country Championships.  At their first meeting after Ihmels came to Boise, he asked Emma what her aspirations were.  "She was kind of being nice about it and not saying much," Ihmels recalled to  "Finally, I said, 'I think you can win nationals.'  She just said, 'OK.'  I don't think anybody had ever told her that."  

Coach Ihmels said that "It makes my job easier when you have an Emma Bates on the team.  What she was able to accomplish in her time here--that goes a long ways when you're walking into living rooms and trying to recruit the next Emma Bates."

Besides being able to show recruits what an athlete such as Bates can do at Boise State, Ihmels pointed out the advantages of the city and the school itself.  "Boise is a great city to recruit to.  Once you get recruits on campus, it's a tough place to turn down.  You get the right student-athlete, you get them on campus, you show them around, you show them what Boise has to offer, what Boise State is trying to do as a university, and what we're trying to do in this athletic department, it sells itself."  He added, "We have a great product that we're selling, and the kids are buying into it, and I think that's going to lead to some great things in the future."

Sophomores Michael Vennard and Andrew Rafla return for a very young Boise State men's team this fall made up entirely of sophomores and freshmen.  New five-star recruit Elijah Armstrong from Pocatello is expected to make an immediate impact.  "He had offers to go a lot of other places, and he decided to stay in Idaho."  Armstrong won three individual tract titles his senior year at the Class 4A state championships.  Armstrong is a three-time Gatorade Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year in Idaho and a 12-time individual state champion, all the while maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA.  Ihmels conveyed the importance of keeping the athletes in Idaho at Boise State.

Rafla, from Boise's Timberline High School, finished 10th at the Mountain West Conference Championships, while Vennard (from Cheshire, England) finished 14th, both with times of 24:14--both earned second-team All-Mountain West honors.  Rafla went on to place 11th at the NCAA Regional Championships in 29:50.6.

On the women's side, Ihmels said that Hyppa has made good progress from her freshman season.  After her first season,  Hyyppä returned home and came back to Boise fit and strong.   Hyyppä's 28th-place finish last year helped the Broncos shock some people by finishing second as a team at the Regionals.  She finished 23rd at the Mountain West Championships.

Ihmels is eager to see what freshman Alie Ostrander (from Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska) can do:  "She was probably the number one recruit in the country," Ihmels said. "She chose us over some really good schools, so she's going to be really exciting to see what she does this fall."

That Ostrander chose Boise State over the prestigious programs at the Universitiy of Oregon and Arkansas, among others, speaks volumes to what it means to have Ihmels at Boise State and what he offers cross country runners.  Ostrander holds a record six junior girls titles in the acclaimed Mount Marathon race held every July 4th in Sweard, Alaska.  In her final run last summer, Ostrander not only finished first, but beat all the boys as well.  At the Big "C" Relays in Anchorage, Ostrander posted a time of 9 minutes, 59.33 seconds in the 3,200 meters to place first in the nation.  

Ihmels stated that the success Bronco fans have seen the last two years is just the beginning.  "We want to continue to progress, and ultimately, we want to win a national title.  Our goal is to be in the mix for the national title in the next two or three years.  I think you can do that here."  

The Broncos open the season September 11 with a split squad.  Boise State will face the University of San Francisco in a dual meet, and Ihmels will send a squad to Salt Lake City to face other teams in the Utah Open.

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