Women’s cross-country’s historic season concludes; team moves onto indoor season


Photo: William Deaton/Iowa State

Cyclone runners Betsy Saina and Meaghan Nelson hold second and third positions during the first half of the NCAA Cross Country National Championships at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park on Nov. 17. The pair would finish first and 16th, respectively. The Cyclones as a team would place 11th overall.

Emily Hejlik

The 2012 women’s cross-country squad could write its own record book, ending its season as one of the most prolific teams in school history.

Six-time All-American Betsy Saina became the third individual cross-country national champion in Cyclone history after winning the NCAA Championships on Nov. 17 in Louisville, Ky. The decorated senior joins Peg Neppel (1975) and Dorthe Rasmussen (1981), who won Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women individual cross-country crowns before women’s cross-country was an NCAA-sanctioned sport.

“This season was great — I can’t even put it into words,” Saina said. “Everything went really well as I hoped it would go from the beginning of the season. My goal from day one was to win the NCAA title, so to be honest, my dream came true on Saturday.”

Saina covered the 6,000-meter course in 19:27.10 and held on to best a field of 253 runners. Fellow senior Meaghan Nelson placed 16th to earn All-America honors for the second straight season.

“I didn’t sleep Friday night thinking about how to do things in the race since it was a tough field, having all the best girls in the nation,” Saina said. “Winning the title was not an easy achievement to get. I knew going into the race that if I won, I would put myself in the history books for Iowa State.”

The year concludes one of Iowa State’s best women’s cross-country seasons as the Cyclones repeated as Big 12 Conference and Midwest Regional champions. Saina was the Big 12 and Midwest Regional individual winner, while also earning Big 12 Runner of the Year.

Crystal Nelson earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors and coach Corey Ihmels was named Big 12 Coach of the Year.

“It was a great season and the group of girls we had really changed the landscape of what it means to be a Cyclone cross-country runner,” said associate coach Travis Hartke. “I don’t think our place or how we ran in the last race of the season really truly represents the type of team we had.”

The pedigree of this year’s team was different than any other squad the coaching staff has ever had — Hartke said their composure and camaraderie put them in elite company.

“There was a quiet confidence throughout the entire season that you just don’t see very often,” Hartke said. “The group got along better than any I have ever seen and everyone knew their spot. As a coaching staff, we sometimes worried that the group was not nervous going into big meets. It was crazy how calm and collected the group was most of the time.”

Nelson, an All-American, also weighed in on how unique of a team she was a part of and the conclusion of her ISU cross-country career.

“When I came here four years ago, I never expected to be on a group that is as successful as this one was or have as much success as I have had over the past few years,” Nelson said. “In that respect, I have completely exceeded any expectations I had when I came into college.”

Looking ahead

The end of cross-country season means only one thing for most of the Cyclone runners — it marks the beginning of the indoor track year. The women have a chance to eclipse any prior team accomplishments with their big three of Saina, Nelson and Dani Stack all returning.

“Those three are poised to have a great season and do as big or bigger things than has ever been done here at Iowa State,” Hartke said. “I think all three have a great background of competing in big races already and want to go on and keep getting better so they can run after their NCAA days are over. I expect them all to take the next logical step.”

Stack exhausted her cross-country eligibility in 2011.