Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Meaghan Nelson has become a name to watch for in the collegiate track and field world. After spending the majority of last year's cross country and track seasons injured, Nelson has had breakthrough seasons in both cross country and indoor track, earning All-America honors twice since November.
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native finished 17th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in November to earn All-America honors for the first time. She went on to finish fourth in the 5,000-meters at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March to earn the honors for a second time.
"Becoming an All-American is definitely not something that I ever really expected coming into college or even coming into this year," Nelson said. "It's really exciting and it makes me want to set my goals higher now and push to do even more."
She's looking to have the same success during the upcoming outdoor season, building off the progress she's made in the last year.
"Qualifying for the national meet and becoming an All-American is probably going to be my goal from now on just because now I can say I've done it before," Nelson said. "Looking at the outdoor season, I want to be an All-American in either the 10,000-meter run or the 5,000-meter run depending on what [head] coach [Corey] Ihmels thinks is best."
Although she redshirted the 2011 outdoor season, Nelson does have a claim to take away from last season. Competing unattached, she took won the 5,000 at the Drake Relays last April. After the end of last year's outdoor track and field season, Nelson's teammates along with Ihmels predicted the upcoming year would surprise her in a good way.
"Luckily they were right," Nelson said. "I thought I would have a solid year where I could be healthy and contribute to the team. But I definitely didn't expect the jump that I made or the success that I've had to any extent."
Along with teammates Betsy Saina and Dani Stack, the Cyclone women have taken the Big 12 Conference by storm this year. The trio led the Cyclones to their first-ever Big 12 cross country title, where Nelson was the race's runner-up and Iowa State's top finisher. Indoors, Nelson took third in the 3,000 and 5,000 just behind Saina who won both races and just ahead of Stack who placed fifth in the conference 3,000 and 5,000 finals.
Training with two runners who have earned All-America honors a combined eight times is what Nelson attributes part of her success to this year.
"Dani and Betsy are both extremely talented and they have accolades that go on and on," Nelson said. "Being able to train with two of the best runners in the country is probably one of the things that has helped me the most. We all work together and support each other."
Ihmels believes that Nelson has what it takes to have a third outstanding season this year in the outdoor 5,000 and 10,000 races.
"She's been completely healthy for a year now and I think that's helped her to excel," Ihmels said. "She's come to the realization after the cross country and indoor seasons that she is one of the best in the country. I think she's running with some confidence now that she maybe didn't have a year ago."
Nelson's first race of the outdoor season was the 10,000 at the Stanford Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif., April 7 where she finished third overall and was the race's first collegiate finisher. Not only was it Nelson's first outdoor race of the year, it was also her first time racing the collegiate 10,000. Her time of 32:33.40 automatically qualifies Nelson for the U.S. Olympic Trials in June and is also the fastest ever that any of the Cyclone women have run their first 10,000-meter race.
"I think the 10,000-meters is going to be her best event," Ihmels said. "I think she's excited for it but at the same time, it's new for her. It's a little scary walking into that. She's taking everything in stride and just gaining that confidence throughout the indoor and cross country seasons is going to help her when she steps up to that start line."