Ihmels recaptures top-ranked program in the nation


Photo: Jordan Maurice/Iowa State Daily

The ISU women’s cross-country team huddles up before their race on Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Iowa Intercollegiate meet in Ames.

Caitlyn Diimig

The women’s cross-country team has

not won a national title for 26 years.

It also had not won a conference

title in 21 years until last weekend, when it captured a Big 12

crown at the Big 12 Championships in College Station,


“Back in the early ‘80s, [Iowa

State’s] was one of the best programs in the country,” said coach

Corey Ihmels.

In 2007, Ihmels took over the

slumping women’s cross country team.

“I knew it was going to be an uphill

battle,” Ihmels said.

Ihmels has steadily progressed the

team into one of the best programs in the nation again. Last year,

the Cyclones placed first at regionals and eighth at


Ihmels has developed a new

generation of runners, and it all started with Lisa


In high school, Koll placed eighth

at the Iowa state cross country championships for Fort Dodge High


Just two years later in an ISU

jersey, Koll broke the ISU 5,000-meter indoor track school record.

Her senior year, under the guidance of Ihmels, she placed 12th at


Koll is now a professional athlete

sponsored by Nike, training to capture an Olympic gold


Senior Dani Stack and juniors

Meaghan Nelson and Betsy Saina can be compared by some as being

similar to Koll, but they see it a little differently.

“I don’t equate myself with Lisa,”

Nelson said. “I’m still getting used to racing with these people

that I looked up to, that I thought were miles away from where I

thought I could be.”

Saina and Nelson have placed higher

than Koll did at Big 12s and Stack is around two minutes from

Koll’s fastest 10,000-meter time at Iowa State.

Koll, as well as former runners

Grace Kemmey and Paige Ties, have been said to have helped shape

the winning program and inspire Stack, Nelson and Saina.

“They really got the program to

where it is today,” Stack said. “It hasn’t just been the girls that

are on the team today. This has been a progression since my

freshman year.”

Stack is seeking to win big with no

regrets for her last year of eligibility for cross


“It’s a little more do or die,”

Stack said. “There’s a lot riding on me. I have to run well,

because if our team wants to win, I need to score as low of points

as possible.”

Saina is seen as the prodigy. A

Kenya native, she was named Outdoor Track and Field Freshman of the

Year and has consistently top runner for the cross country team

every year.

“When Betsy [Saina] came in she had

a huge impact on the team,” Stack said.

Nelson is considered the

most-improved. Stress fractures kept her from competing last

season, but the time spent cross training has landed Nelson a

first-place finish at the Drake Relays in the 5,000-meter and a

second-place finish at Big 12s.

“I’ve had a lot of setbacks,” Nelson

said. “But I’ve kept pushing and kept pushing.”

Nelson said she still surprises

herself every race that she can run with Saina and


It takes five women to win a race

and the Cyclones have more than five that can


“I feel really good about where our

four and five is going to be,” Ihmels said. “It’s less than 20 days

until nationals, it’s almost a month, and we’ve got a lot of time

to get some work done.”

Sophomore Morgan Casey and senior

India Lee have been running in the top four and five for Iowa

State. Junior Taylor Petersen stepped into the fifth position to

help win the Big 12s when Lee was having an off race.

Casey said the Cyclones win races

because they are vying for each other and it is not about

individuals winning.

“We don’t just line up wanting it

for ourselves,” Casey said. “We line up for everyone


The women’s team is two weeks away

from regionals, in which it is ranked first, and four weeks away

from nationals, in which it is ranked 10th. 

The Cyclones are hoping to do better

than last year’s eighth-place finish, a place that was far-fetched

before Ihmels was coach.

“I think we are capable of doing

even better than what we did last year,” Saina said.

Ihmels, Stack and Nelson have

similar sentiments.

“We’re kind of underdogs,” Stack

said. “I don’t think people are really looking to Iowa State to

really do great, crazy things, but I think we’re going to surprise