Saina breaks the tape, records as Cyclone women take 11th


Cross country runner, Betsy Saina, celebrates after finishing first in the NCAA Cross Country National Championships at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville, KY on Nov. 17th. Saina set a record at the park with a time of 19:27.9 in a 6k run.

Stephen Koenigsfeld

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A better story couldn’t have been written for the final 400-meters of the women’s NCAA National Championship.

Senior Betsy Saina came around the final corner with the finish line peering at her through the sun’s blinding shine.

“One thing that led me to not freak out when I was there was: I ran until I forgot where I was,” Saina said. “All of sudden I just look up and think, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s the finishing line.'”

Saina broke the NCAA 2012 Championships tape that was strung across the finish line, ahead of 252 other runners from across the nation. 

The tape wasn’t the only thing Saina broke on Saturday.

Saina’s time of 19:27.9 was the fastest by anyone at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park. She also became first woman Cyclone to ever win an individual national title (the third Cyclone ever).

“I thought she was one of the young ladies that I thought had a chance to win today,” said ISU coach Corey Ihmels. “I knew she was really fit, and I knew she really wanted this.”

Saina proved she “wanted this” in the final 50-meters of the race when she pulled ahead just enough to edge out Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino.

The final separating distance, in time, between the two was only one-half of a second.

Teammate Meaghan Nelson expressed her exuberance and confidence with Saina after the race as well.

“I’m really proud of Betsy, and I knew she could pull out the win today,” Nelson said. “I train with her every day and doing 400s with her; I knew no one could kick her butt after a 400-[meter dash].”

Nelson said she took a risk putting herself out in the front early in the race.

“Going into [Saturday], the goal was to get out with that top group and that top five and hang with them as long as I could,” Nelson said. “And if things went well, I would finish up high. But that’s not the way it panned out for me today.” 

Nelson ended up clocking in at 20:01.7 for an overall 16th-place finish. Both Saina and Nelson were named All-Americans for their performances as well. 

Despite being slightly discouraged, Nelson said the 11th-place team finish could be more of a learning experience than anything.

“There was definitely a little bit of disappointment in how we finished this last meet here,” Nelson said. “We definitely had higher expectations, but I think it’s a good learning experience for the younger girls on the team who will have a shot at it next year.”

The women were ranked No. 2 in the nation heading into the national championship.

Ihmels said the team wasn’t quite able to “manage the day” when race day arrived.

“You didn’t need to do anything special today to win as a team,” Ihmels said. “You just needed to go out there and do what you did all year long; and we didn’t do that.” 

With indoor track season beginning to come into daylight for the runners of this year’s cross-country team, Ihmels said they will focus on rebounding and getting to work.

“It’s about how you respond from that,” Ihmels said. “How do you walk away from this and… you get back to work.”

As Saina and Nelson raced their final cross-country races as Cyclones, Nelson said there was a bit of a sentimental feel to last Saturday’s performance.

“It means a lot. I’ve seen the program grow over the last five years,” Nelson said. “Just being a part of the progress that it’s made… I feel like I’ve been part of a special group.”

Nelson will have a chance to continue being a part of a winning program this coming winter and spring as she joins fellow teammates in the indoor and outdoor track season.

Saina smiled and stayed humble when she replayed the last 100-meters in her mind. 

“I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to try, I’m going to see what I can do,'” Saina said. “I thought ‘we’ll see what happens’ and it just happened to be me today.”