Cross country: No. 2 ISU confident entering Big 12 tournament

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AMES — It’s a tall ladder, but Iowa State distance runner and former Xavier standout Meaghan Nelson continues to add rungs to it.

Nelson and the No. 2-ranked Cyclone women, along with the men, enter Saturday’s Big 12 Championships confident and comfortable.

The ISU women also enter as the reigning champions, with Betsy Saina and Nelson serving as headliners.

“Things have been improving with each meet, which is what we wanted to see throughout the season,” said Nelson, who finished fourth, while Saina took second, in last weekend’s Cyclone win at the prestigious Wisconsin Adidas Invitational. “We’re hoping to continue that going into the conference meet and if we run to our abilities I think we can win it again.”

The meet begins at 11 a.m. Saturday and will be run in Austin, Texas.

The ISU men are ranked 25th nationally and finished 16th out of 45 teams in the recent Wisconsin meet.

“(They) just have to keep the momentum going forward,” Cyclone men’s and women’s coach Corey Ihmels said. “The Big 12 is one of the best if not the best conference in the nation with Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas all nationally ranked. So it’s going to be tough to crack those top three (spots).”

Nelson wasn’t sure if she belonged in the lead pack a couple years ago.

Nonetheless, she’s developed into an elite talent.

Nelson qualified for and competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer and keeps turning heads as her times fall.

“Last year, definitely, I just didn’t really know where I was and wasn’t really confident in what I could be,” she said. “So it definitely helps out to have experience under my belt of being up there and racing with really good competition all year long. Now I’m just trying to push myself a little harder and have more confidence up there in the top two as opposed to being surprised I’m even there in the first place.”

Winning this weekend’s big, but the ultimate goal comes into sharp focus beginning with the Nov. 9 NCAA Midwest Regional at Springfield, Mo.

“You always want to be tops in your conference,” Nelson said. “But we’re definitely also looking to build off of that.”

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