CROSS COUNTRY: Sophomores surpassing expectations

Iowa State cross country runners Meaghan Nelson and Dani Stack exceeded expectations in their freshman season, and are hoping to continue their success in 2009. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Logan Gaedke

Iowa State cross country runners Meaghan Nelson and Dani Stack exceeded expectations in their freshman season, and are hoping to continue their success in 2009. Photo: Logan Gaedke/Iowa State Daily

Jake Calhoun —

Sophomores Meaghan Nelson and Dani Stack came to Iowa State not knowing the impact they would have on each other’s lives, let alone the impact they would have on the Cyclone cross country team.

“When both of us got here, we didn’t think we’d be racing at all,” Nelson said. “I was expecting maybe in a couple years to race.”

Last year was a huge change for the freshmen duo. Neither of them were highly recruited coming out of high school. Nelson chose Iowa State over Iowa and South Carolina, while Stack looked at Minnesota before deciding on Iowa State.

“When I came on my recruiting visit [to Iowa State], I really liked all the girls and I felt I could fit in really well with the team,” Stack said. “I really liked coach [Corey] Ihmels, and his training ideas were kind of similar to mine, so I guess that’s probably my main reason for coming here.”

Nelson and Stack both came into the program with a tremendous amount of respect for the upperclassmen. Stack said then-junior Paige Ties took them under her wing as their “mother hen,” took care of them and provided them guidance.

The talented pair caught their first big break at last year’s Roy Griak Cross Country Invitational at the University of Minnesota, where Nelson finished just one place behind Ties to finish 46th overall. Stack finished 67th overall in the 222-runner field.

The two girls’ success cemented their status as forces to be reckoned with as freshmen on the team.

“[Griak] showed me ‘Oh, maybe I can do this,’ and it gave me a glimpse at where I want to keep going forward,” Stack said. “The training I did that summer compared to the training I had done in high school really excelled me a lot farther than I thought it would.”

Nelson and Stack train together frequently and run together often to feed off each other’s energy and provide support for one another as true friends ordinarily would.

“I think we’re pretty compatible with how fast we want to run,” Nelson said. “In races, we usually stick together and we’re in training groups for workouts. We’re in the same area in our [collegiate] careers in terms of where we’re at.”

They began training together toward the end of the cross country season last year, a routine that has ceased to let up since then.

“We definitely push each other and I think that’s probably the best thing for us,” Stack said. “We’re very comfortable with each other that if we want to go faster or slower we can just say that to each other and not feel bad about it.”

Nelson and Stack became good friends last year because of their similar situations as up-and-coming freshmen given the chance to shine early on in their collegiate careers. Nelson said the two began to bond more as they began traveling and racing together. Their friendship flourished once it became more evident that they shared a common goal in the sport — to win.

“We balance each other out really well because we have very different personalities,” Stack said. “But it’s a good balance between us.”

Nelson and Stack have made the most of their challenges and excelled as a result, leading the Cyclone women in last year’s Big 12 Championships in Ames. Nelson finished the 6,000-meter race 33rd overall with a time of 22:13.05 with Stack finishing 36th overall, just two seconds off Nelson’s pace.

“We really raced together and we really fed off each other through the whole race,” Nelson said. “When we crossed the finish line it was definitely a good feeling.”

Nelson and Stack are heading into their sophomore season looking to continue their success for the benefit of the Cyclone cross country team. This time they will also be looking to provide their leadership and guidance to help the incoming freshmen who look to follow in their footsteps as freshmen phenoms to the path of success.

“It’s a whole different story than last year,” Stack said. “I think we have a chance to do something really great. The team has made a huge jump from even where it was last year and I think we can only go further from here.”