Betsy Saina conference champion, Crystal Nelson newcomer of the year


Photo: Huiling Wu/ Iowa State Daily

ISU cross-country runners Betsy Saina and Crystal Nelson pose together. This season, Saina became ISU’s first cross-country conference meet individual champion since Dorthe Rassmussen in 1981. Nelson was named Big 12 Newcomer of the year at the meet, finishing eighth. 

Emily Hejlik

As the ISU women’s cross-country team ran to a second straight Big 12 Championship team title, senior All-American Betsy Saina continued to run her way into the record books.

Saina became Iowa State’s first conference cross-country individual champion since Dorthe Rassmussen won the Big Eight title in 1981. She covered the 6,000-meter course in Austin, Texas, in a time of 20:06.8.

“I actually didn’t know anything about it,” Saina said. “I just approached the race like anything else, but it does help me to feel like I’m doing the right things by accomplishing feats that haven’t been done in quite some time.”

The plan was to run easy up until the third or fourth kilometer and then take off from there with fellow All-American Meaghan Nelson and the rest of the pack. After crossing the finish line, Saina reacted as any runner would after keeping a pace of just less than a six-minute mile.

“I just took a sigh of relief,” Saina said. “I looked behind me and was more interested to see how everyone else on the team was doing.”

Saina is in elite company, including most recent ISU runners such as former Cyclone Lisa Uhl, the four-time NCAA champion and current record holder in the 10,000 meters, as well as All-Americans Dani Stack and Meaghan Nelson.

“Timewise, Betsy is better than any other athlete we’ve had here at Iowa State,” said assistant coach Travis Hartke. “She has yet to accomplish what Lisa has, but when it comes down to time, she’s at the top.”

Saina and Uhl share the similarities that set them apart from the rest.

“The confidence those two have as runners is unmatched, it’s something you can’t teach or push,” Hartke said. “Betsy’s confidence now is even higher than it was last year. She is at a different level this year.”

Another Cyclone runner etching her name into ISU cross-country history is true freshman Crystal Nelson. Nelson was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year as she finished eighth at the Big 12 Championships.

“I didn’t even know there was an award for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year,” Nelson said. “It was a great feeling; I was ecstatic when I found out.”

Nelson came in 26th at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational and 22nd at the Roy Griak meet in Falcon Heights, Minn. Even with her recent success, she was surprised as anyone about her achievements.

“I never would have thought I’d be where I am today coming into the season,” Nelson said. “I was decent in high school, but nowhere near where I am at now. My goal coming into college was to make the top seven.”

Compared to her current teammates Meaghan Nelson and Saina when they were freshmen, Crystal Nelson is in a good position, to say the least.

“She is way ahead of where Meaghan was when she was a freshman,” Hartke said. “Betsy was seventh at nationals her freshman season, but Crystal is in a better spot than where Betsy was. We would have never guessed that Crystal would be doing this well so early in her career.”