This August, the Iowa State women’s cross country team begins their quest for a third consecutive conference championship. Texas Tech (2008-10) is the only current Big 12 member to three-peat as conference champs.
The Cyclones face a tough road ahead in the upcoming season, losing two of the nation’s top runners in reigning NCAA champion Betsy Saina and All-American Meaghan Nelson, who raced to a one-two finish at the 2012 Big 12 Championship. Saina and Nelson provided the squad with invaluable senior leadership and led the program back into the national spotlight with top-15 finishes in each of the last three seasons at the NCAA Championships.
The team will be introducing an entirely new coaching staff this season, headed by five-time national championship coach Martin Smith and 2012 NCAA Northeast Regional Coach of the Year Andrea Grove-McDonough. Last season, Grove-McDonough led UConn to an eighth place finish at the NCAA Championships.
Grove-McDonough knows exactly what that third title means to a program.
“The third championship cements a legacy for the program,” Grove-McDonough said. “Winning three consecutive titles speaks for the continuation of success, especially in a powerful conference like the Big 12. To win three in a row, it takes more than just one group of girls to be successful. For the girls who won the first title, it’s great to see that your accomplishments are being carried on by those after you.”
Iowa State returns key runners in Crystal Nelson, Samantha Bluske, Katy Moen and Colleen Riley, who all placed in the top-20 at last year’s championship. Nelson and Bluske both notched top-10 finishes in the Big 12 Championship last season, and are very optimistic about the year ahead.
“We have many returning athletes and newcomers who are ready to step it up this year and give it everything they have,” Nelson said. “As long as we all stay healthy and focused on the goal ahead, winning three consecutive conference championships will without a doubt be achievable for our team.”
“I came to Iowa State to be a part of something bigger than myself,” Bluske said. “It’s a great experience to win a single conference title, incredible to have won two back-to-back. Having a chance to win three in a row, it’s indescribable. It really shows how much of a distance powerhouse Iowa State has become.”
From 1975-79, the Cyclones won five consecutive conference titles, in what was then the Big 8 Conference. This year’s squad will look to continue its recent success and stamp its name into the Big 12 record books.
Other notable schools with three-plus consecutive women’s conference championships:
Big 12: Colorado (1999-2007), Texas Tech (2008-10)
Pac-12: Oregon (1986-88, 1990-92); Stanford (1996-2007)
SEC: Arkansas (1991-95, 98-02); Tennessee (2006-08)
Big Ten: Wisconsin (1983-88, 1995-2000); Michigan (1992-94, 2002-06)
ACC: North Carolina State (1978-80, 1983-85, 1987-93, 1995-98, 2000-02); Florida State (2008-12)