Morgan Casey - Griak 2011

Iowa State sophomore Morgan Casey runs Saturday, Sep. 24 at the Griak Invitational at the University of Minnesota.

Editor's note: Morgan Casey is a former Northeast cross country and track standout and now a sophomore runner at Iowa State.

The always anticipated Roy Griak Invitational was once again worth all the excitement, nerves, and leg cramps that accompany the first big meet of the year.

The day before the race I was a little apprehensive about how I would feel out on the course. My hip was giving me trouble at the beginning of the year, and to top it off on Thursday night I got hit by a car, again. Luckily I no longer take for granted that people will consider yielding to pedestrians (or bicyclists) or coming to a full stop at red lights before turning right. Therefore I was able to make a ninja leap from my bike and land relatively unscathed. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for my poor bike.

I was told at the bike shop when I took it in for repairs that my bike was "taco-ed." Unfortunate as it is I am quite happy my bike became a taco rather than me becoming a burrito in a body bag, and I thank God that I have survived the experience twice with nothing worse than some tight quads and a sore ankle.

Race day morning came, and we were ready to rock the Griak Invitational at Minnesota. Rocking the Griak is no small feat. The course is unforgiving, and full of turns with few flat spots to get into a rhythm. In addition to the wear and tear of the topography, the field is loaded with ranked teams and highly talented athletes who are notorious for taking the first mile of the race out hard. It requires patience, and it isn't easy.

That being said, it is worth it.

The women placed three in the top 20, with Dani Stack's eighth place finish leading the charge. Dani was followed by Betsy, then Meaghan, Indie, and me.

Throughout the race I felt much stronger than I did a year ago, and much smarter as well. I started fast, but not too fast, and I was around 78th place at the 2k mark, still feeling relaxed, and ready to make my move. I took control of the second half of my race and ended up passing around 30 runners to place 48th with a time of 21:44, a huge improvement from a year ago, and I'm very happy with my performance. It gave me confidence for the rest of the season.

Beth and Maggie completed our top seven, Maddy ran well for her first 6k, and Emily and Kersten completed the long tough course in good time too, which is pretty great for a pair of 800 runners!

After everyone placed so well individually, we knew we had a solid shot at the team title. In fact, we tied for first place with California. To break the tie it came down to who had the faster 5th runner, and as it turns out, the girl with the long braid I was battling it out with at the end was Cal's 5th runner, and we claimed the victory by a merely a second.

As we climbed atop the stage to receive our plaque we were in a celebratory mood not only because everyone ran well, but because every member of our team was there, both competing and non competing, male and female. The entire team coupled with many of their families, provided the support to make special moments like this all the more meaningful.

In addition to the exciting women's victory, the men's team placed sixth, led by Rico Loy and Martin Coolidge, both of them finishing in the top twenty. Both guys improved a lot from a year ago, and I think when November rolls around we are going to have a few more seats to fill on the bus ride to nationals.

Rico and Dani are both seniors in cross country, therefore this was their last Griak and I think they really made the most of it. I'm not the only one who feels this was either because this week the two of them were named Big 12 Runners of the Week. It's only the second time ISU has swept the spots, and there are no two athletes more deserving of this accolade.

There was more happiness filling the Minnesota air after the race when I got to see my family for the first time in several weeks. My dad and my aunt made the trip up to see me run, in addition to my beloved grandfather, who came to support my team and me despite an injured knee. I was very happy to see Grandpa, as were my teammates who have heard so much about him. And I think they enjoyed seeing him because as Indie always says, "Granddad hugs are the best!"

After the race I had plans to ride to Emily Meese's parent's house, as she grew up just a stone's throw from the Twin Cities. I was really looking forward to the time with my team mates, but my dad offered to drive me home (as in home home) so we could watch the Packers vs. the Bears the following day. As a little girl growing up loving the three F's of Sunday- Family, Food, and Football, the decision was already made for me, and I rerouted for Goose Lake.

It was relaxing to be home if even for less than 24 hours. I got to watch my two favorite football teams face off with my favorite football watching crew, my dad and my dog.

It was a perfect weekend, and a good way to head into another stressful week of exams.

The season is officially on a roll, and it's going to go very fast from here. We got off to a great start, and I think it's foreshadowing a great ending to come. But for now we are focused on the long stretch in the middle. These are the weeks we will train harder, work smarter, and grow spiritually closer as a team. All this will be done to ensure that next time, there is no tie breaker necessary.