Crystal Nelson leads women’s cross-country to 4th-straight Midwest Regional title; Mohamed Hrezi qualifies in men’s 10K


Suhaib Tawil/Iowa State Daily

Crystal Nelson leads the NCAA Midwest Regionals women’s race on Friday, Nov. 15. Nelson took first in the regional race and will advance to the NCAA Championships. The women’s team as a whole took first at the race.

Ryan Young

As the pace car came down the home stretch, many fans expected a crowd of runners behind it in a close battle to win the 6K women’s race. But instead, there was only one.

ISU sophomore Crystal Nelson finished the Midwest Regional cross-country meet in first place with a time of 20:12. The next closest time was almost nine seconds after Nelson crossed the finish line.

“I was not thinking I would be here at all when I came into college,” Nelson said. “I didn’t even know I was going to love it, but the coaches really believed in me. It was a definite goal of mine.”

The Cyclones finished the meet with 39 points, winning their fourth consecutive Midwest Regional meet. They will all be competing at the NCAA Championships on Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind.

“I really think that’s when you start talking about a legacy,” said ISU coach Andrea Grove-McDonough regarding the team’s fourth win. “I think we’re trying to show not just the state of Iowa, but the entire country that Iowa State is here to stay. We are going to continue to be a strong program, and keep attracting the athletes that want to be a part of a tradition like we have here.”

Senior Samantha Bluske returned to the ISU lineup Friday after suffering a stress fracture in her foot earlier in the season. She took 13th place overall, and impressed McDonough with her performance coming off the injury.

With the prospect of this being her last collegiate cross-country race, Bluske was grateful she got to run on her home course one last time.

“It was so exciting. It went by so quick,” Bluske said. “The energy was amazing, and you can just tell that Ames is a running community. It was everything I wanted for my last race and more.”

The women weren’t the only ISU cross-country runners qualifying for nationals. Mohamed Hrezi finished fourth in the men’s 10K race, earning himself a trip to the national meet.

“I just needed top four. That was my goal,” Hrezi said. “My goal was just to stay in the mix. I needed to put myself in the mix to place in the top four, and that’s what I did.”

The ISU men’s team finished third at the regional meet, and just missed the cut to qualify for the national meet as a team.

Both the men’s and the women’s programs climbed high in the national rankings, opening the eyes of many in the cross-country world. 

ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard said he was extremely proud of what ISU coaches Martin Smith and Grove-McDonough have done.

“They did more than what they ever thought they could do,” Pollard said. “That’s just a credit to the coaches and their ability to get the runners to buy into their system and to believe in themselves. 

“Good things will happen when they do that.”

The women’s squad and Hrezi will be competing at the national race Saturday and are completely confident in their ability to perform well on the national stage.

“[Nelson] is going to kick some butt at nationals,” Bluske said. “It’s great to have a front runner; that’s going to be a huge help. She is going to do some amazing things next weekend.”