Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Iowa State's women's cross country team is headed for the NCAA Championships Monday in Terre Haute, Ind. That is not a surprise as the Cyclones have been rated as the Midwest Region's No. 1 team the entire season. Iowa State claimed the NCAA Midwest Regional team title Saturday to earn a second-straight trip to the national meet. One member of the women's team, Iowa State junior Dani Stack, has experienced NCAA Division I cross country from both sides now.
Coming from a small Minnesota school, Mankato's Loyola Catholic High School, she knew there would be challenges stepping up in the Big 12 Conference, one of the nation's premier leagues.
"I hadn't had much of a team experience in high school because my (prep) school was smaller," Stack said. "I visited Minnesota and Iowa State. When I met the girls on the team at ISU I felt right at home."
In the fall of 2008, Iowa State head coach Corey Ihmels chose to redshirt All-Americans Lisa Koll and Grace Kemmey to build for a strong 2009 squad. Without its top two runners, little was expected of the 2008 Cyclones. It provided a freshman like Stack an opportunity to race without the pressure of team expectations.
"We just went out there and ran," Stack said. "There was no pressure. We didn't know what pressure was."
With teammates like fellow freshman Meaghan Nelson, Stack and her fellow precocious teammates were a pleasant surprise.
"Dani came in and right away did everything we asked of her," Ihmels said. "She had talent but the most important thing was that she had a desire to improve and was willing to make the necessary sacrifices."
At the 2008 Big 12 Championships, Stack was Iowa State's second finisher, placing 36th among 98 competitors. The Cyclones finished ninth as a team, not bad for a squad that most people had ticketed for 12th place. It wasn't a perfect season. After the Big 12 meet in Ames, Stack noted pain in her foot. It didn't get better and a stress fracture curtailed the balance of the season. Stack redshirted the 2009 track and field season.
With Koll and Kemmey back for the 2009 cross country season, expectations were higher. The team finished third at the Big 12 Championships, its best ever conference placing. Stack was Iowa State's seventh finisher, placing 71st overall. She knew that in her second collegiate season that the bar had been raised. She said those higher expectations affected her performance.
"I was my biggest enemy," Stack said. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to help the team."
Stack didn't run at the Midwest Regional and the NCAA Championship as the Cyclones finished third in both meets.
Ihmels demonstrated patience in Stack's training during the 2010 track and field season.
"We decided to give it a year and just get experience," Stack said. "I ran some shorter races and ran at Stanford in the 5,000 meters. I was learning."
Stack segued into the summer of 2010 with a renewed faith in her training. She was running 80 miles per week and came to fall camp ready to run.
"Her improvement this fall has everything to do with her training and living a lifestyle that bodes well for running hard," Ihmels said. "We knew she was capable of making a real contribution and she has done a great job this season."
In 2010, Stack has stepped up in a big way, placing 29th as the Cyclones' fifth finisher at the Big 12 meet Oct. 30 in Stillwater, Okla.
Iowa State repeated its third-place effort as a team led by the 2-3 finish of Betsy Saina and Aliphine Tuliamuk. Saturday, Stack was again Iowa State's fifth finisher, placing 14th in a field of 188 runners as the Cyclones won the team title in a 27-team meet.
Stack values the team camaraderie that comes with running together every day.
"We help each other improve, encourage each other and it helps to have someone on the team like India Lee, who I can train with and who can run with me on the course when we race."
Stack is a dietetics major who has a minor in journalism. She has great expectations for the future.
"I have a long way to go," Stack said. "But I am pleased with how the season is going.