Women’s cross-country sets sights on NCAA title


Photo: Huiling Wu/Iowa State Daily

Meaghan Nelson and Betsy Saina practice on Monday, Oct. 15, behind the Lied Recreation Athletic Center. Saina and Nelson got second and fourth places respectively in the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational. 

Emily Hejlik

After winning the NCAA Midwest Regional title for the third straight year, the second-ranked ISU women’s cross-country team has its sights set on the ultimate prize.

The women received an automatic bid to the Nov. 17 NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky., after placing five runners in the top 30 en route to winning a third straight regional title this past weekend.

“We don’t need to change anything this week to prepare, we just need to maintain what we’ve been doing,” said senior Betsy Saina. “Our goal is to win the title and I think we are more than capable of doing that.”

The Cyclones have championship aspirations after a seventh-place finish at NCAA’s last season. It was there that Saina earned All-America honors again with a ninth-place finish, while fellow senior Meaghan Nelson was 17th, also earning All-America honors.

The performance was Iowa State’s best finish on the national stage since placing second in 1985. The Cyclones were eighth in 2010.

“I’m a different runner than I was a year ago,” Saina said. “Confidence has been the key to my success, and I know I can do way better than the ninth-place finish I had last year. I want to win the title; if it doesn’t happen, I want to know that I did my best.”

Florida State has the No. 1 rank in the Women’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll and poses the biggest threat to the Cyclones. Rounding out the top five are Iowa State, Oregon, Arizona and Stanford.

“Florida State and Oregon both have a similar makeup like we do,” said associate coach Travis Hartke. “They have two to three girls who are up front in the race and a couple top 50 runners. To win a national title, you need at least two All-Americans.”

The Cyclones go into the meet having never faced Florida State or Oregon, which will make it tough to know exactly what they will be going up against. If the women are able to run a similar race, like they did at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational, the opponent may not matter.

“I don’t know if we really prepare against teams,” Hartke said. “We can’t control what the other teams do, we can only control what we are doing. I like our chances.”

The reigning Big 12 champions have their 1-2 punch with All-Americans Saina and Meaghan Nelson. Not to be lost in the shuffle is Crystal Nelson and her stellar freshman season.

“I think there is less pressure on me individually because I’m not as experienced as the others,” Crystal said. “At the same time, I have more pressure that I put on myself because if I don’t do well, it affects the team.”

With the biggest meet of the season one day away, mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation.

“The night before the meet I will go through the race in my head and how I want it to play out,” Crystal said. “I go into it knowing it’s going to hurt, so during the actual race it’s actually easier.”

Not only is the NCAA meet the last race of the 2012 season and the most important, but it will also mark the end of the historic careers of Saina and Meaghan Nelson.

“I don’t even want to think about it,” Saina said. “I’m trying to accomplish what I and our team know we can accomplish. I don’t want to have any regrets.”