AMES, Iowa – After graduating senior standouts Meaghan Nelson, Betsy Saina and Dani Stack, the Iowa State women’s cross country team looked for new leaders within the program. Samantha Bluske naturally filled the void for the Cyclones.
Bluske originally transferred from Illinois State in 2011, to run for the Cyclones. Last season, the Chaseburg, Wis., native quickly established herself as one of the squad’s top runners, earning All-Big 12 and All-Midwest Region honors. Bluske developed strong relationships with her teammates. Amongst the turnover in the coaching staff this past summer, those relationships helped the fifth-year senior step into a leadership role, giving younger runners someone to turn to.
Women’s cross country head coach Andrea Grove-McDonough was grateful having Bluske on site during the summer.
“Sam was great early on this summer when I first started,” Grove-McDonough said. “She showed me around and took me to the trails where the team likes to run. She was a great go-between for me and the girls, especially those who didn’t know me very well.”
“I’ve grown so close with the team,” Bluske said. “The culture is exactly what I was searching for my first two years at Illinois State and I’ve found that here. Everyone on the team wants to be great and I’ve always wanted to be a part of a group that had that mentality. I know that the women look up to me from a leadership standpoint. Being a captain isn’t necessarily about being the fastest runner, it’s about the leadership aspect and caring about the culture of the team.”
Her efforts were recognized by her teammates and also by Grove-McDonough, when the team announced that Bluske, along with Maggie Gannon and Katy Moen, was named a team captain for the 2013 season. It’s unmistakable how much the title means to Bluske.
“Being a captain means being a strong role model,” Bluske said. “It’s about connecting with the women on the team and carrying on the culture of the team in every aspect of your life. It’s not just showing up and doing the work at practice. It’s doing the little things like making sure my schoolwork is done, keeping up on nutrition and getting work done in the training room.”
Bluske’s integrity and the respect she receives from her teammates were key factors Grove-McDonough’s decision to name her captain.
“Sam has a great deal of integrity,” Grove-McDonough said. “At team camp, it was very evident that all the girls on the team have a lot of respect for her in every aspect, not just as a runner. She has really found her voice this year and set the tone for the program, which was somewhat of a new thing for her. Sam has always been a great leader and has a great work ethic in every aspect of her life.”
This season, the team has a unique opportunity in going for a third consecutive Big 12 conference title, as well as a fourth consecutive NCAA Midwest Region title. The team heads to Iowa City on Friday for the Iowa Black and Gold Invitational in the next step towards those greater goals.
“I’m really excited,” Bluske said. “More girls are racing this week, so we’ll see where everyone is at. We have has put in so much work and it will be great for the team to get some pre-race jitters out of the way. Our girls are just ready to race again. We’re excited to put the uniform on again and have the chance to race against Iowa, which is always exciting.”
The Black and Gold Invitational will be held on Friday in Iowa City, Iowa at the Ashton Cross Country Course. The women’s race is slated for 6:00 p.m. CT and the gun will fire at 6:45 p.m. for the men.