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Cyclones End 2013 With 4th Straight Top-15 Ranking (Season Recap)

Courtesy: cyclones.com
Release: 12/02/2013
         
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AMES, Iowa – For the fourth straight year, the Iowa State women’s cross country team ended the season ranked as one of the nation’s top 15 teams. The Cyclones’ 2013 campaign was capped off by a 13th-place team finish at the NCAA Championships.

Iowa State entered the season looking for an identity after changes in leadership and losing All-Americans in 2012 NCAA Champion Betsy Saina and Meaghan Nelson. The squad was able to come together early in the season and, under the leadership of head coach Andrea Grove-McDonough, the women developed a new entity all their own. Click here to read about Grove-McDonough’s relaxed-focus and the team atmosphere she developed.

Grove-McDonough was very pleased with how well the team came together.

“It was great finding who we are as a team and coming together the way we did,” Grove-McDonough said. “It was a lot of fun to be a part of that. I thought we did a very good job of creating an identity for ourselves and discovering who we were.”

Iowa State outperformed expectations week after week during the regular season, finishing in the top-five at every competition. Most notably, the Cyclones finished fifth at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational and defeated 12 nationally ranked opponents after entering the meet ranked No. 28. The women took down several of the nation’s elite, including then-ranked No. 4 Washington, No. 7 New Mexico and No. 10 San Francisco.

After starting the season outside of the top-25, the Cyclones’ moved them into the national spotlight and the team skyrocketed in the rankings, jumping over 20 spots in the polls. The Iowa State women entered postseason competition ranked No. 7 nationally.

Heading into the Big 12 Championships, the Iowa State women were heavy favorites to capture their third-consecutive conference title. The squad did so in impressive fashion, winning the meet by an overwhelming 69 points and scoring just 35 as a team. The 69-point deficit marked the second largest margin of victory in Big 12 history (73 - Colorado, 2002). All five scoring runners earned all-conference accolades in Crystal Nelson (2nd), Katy Moen (4th), Bethanie Brown (5th), Perez Rotich (9th) and Ejiro Okoro (15th).

The team’s dominating performance earned Grove-McDonough Big 12 Women’s Coach of the Year. Brown also earned the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award as the first newcomer to cross the line at the championships.

The Cyclones were again favorited at the NCAA Midwest Regional, which was run on their home course for the first time since 1997. The Iowa State women faced a top-20 opponent in Minnesota and dispatched the Gophers in a 39-59 victory to capture Iowa State’s fourth-straight regional title. Again, the top-five Cyclone runners earned all-region recognition in Nelson (1st), Brown (3rd), Rotich (10th), Moen (12th) and Samantha Bluske (13th). Nelson’s performance earned her NCAA Midwest Regional Athlete of the Year recognition, while Grove-McDonough added Women’s Midwest Coach of the Year accolades to her resume.

At the NCAA Championships, the Cyclones were forced to battle not only against other teams, but against the course as well. The course received heavy amounts of rain during the week, creating a wet and muddy running surface to go along with 30-degree temperatures. Despite the conditions, the women were able to run to their fourth-straight top-15 finish at the championships, placing 13th in team competition behind All-America performances from Nelson (32nd) and Brown (37th).

“I feel very good about what we did as a team,” Grove-McDonough said. “We may feel like we didn’t run our best and had a little bad luck, but that happens in those types of conditions. If we’re disappointed with a 13th-place finish at the national championships, then we’re doing a lot of things right as a program.”

Each team has a leader who isn’t recognized in the headlines for their work, but is vital to the team’s success. This season, that leader for the Cyclones was Katy Moen.

Katy Moen was a great leader for us this year, especially during the races,” Grove-McDonough said. “She’s invaluable to our team because she is always solid. She has great days, like she did at the conference meet, but she doesn’t have bad days. She just doesn’t.

“I always have a lot of faith in her on the starting line,” Grove-McDonough added. “Katy always has great composure on the course in any race. Whether it’s at Griak or at the national championships, she is always a rock.”

The Cyclone coach was pleased with Nelson’s physical performance on the course, but what impressed her most, was Nelson’s mental toughness. That toughness was on display at the NCAA Championships. With just over 1 kilometer to go, Nelson was among the top-15 individuals and was running strong. Unfortunately, the sophomore got tangled with another runner and fell. Despite the setback, Nelson rallied herself and still managed to garner All-America accolades.

“Crystal pointed out to me that, a year ago, she would not have been able to get up and recover from her fall the way she did this season at the championships,” Grove-McDonough said. “That was a nasty fall, and she fought back to be an All-American. That was great for her to realize that she has that kind of toughness.”

Next season, the Cyclones will return the entire squad, with exception to Samantha Bluske. Bluske missed most of the season with a stress fracture but came back late in the season as a strong contributor in the postseason races. With the amount of talent from this year’s team returning next season, Grove-McDonough is very excited about what the future holds for the program.

“We had a tremendous season,” Grove-McDonough said. “We took home a lot of accolades and saw our ranking climb throughout the year. We know we’re a relatively youthful team and will be bringing back a lot of big guns next year. We have a lot to feel good about going into next season, but we also know that we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure we keep moving forward.”

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