West High junior Bailey NockBy Susan HarmanYour Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – Girls cross country is the rare sport in which freshmen can steal the spotlight from upperclassmen who have more strength, training and experience. The talent has to be there, of course, but sometimes the youngest runners have advantages just because they have not yet fully matured physically.
At least that was the case when Iowa girls raced distances shorter than the current 5K courses. Time will tell if the longer distance levels the field.
West High’s Bailey Nock, a junior high star, was carefully nurtured through her freshman season and finished with a bang: MVC athlete of the year and third-place finish individually at the state championships.
“As a freshman I was just going with the flow,” Nock said. “I was doing whatever my coach said. It was a new thing for me, a lot more running than I’ve ever done. I tried to do my best and stay with it.”
“In eighth grade the idea of competition is you try really hard,” West coach Mike Parker said. “You run to the end and then you go get ice cream. You learn in high school that practice is actually more important. We train really hard. We want to be the best.”
Much was expected of Nock heading into her sophomore season last year, but a stress fracture in her right fibula caused her to miss a large portion of the season. Even with the injury and concomitant lack of mileage under her belt, Nock was first-team all-MVC and pushed herself to finish seventh at the state meet.
“When we went to state I was more focused on the team aspect of it,” Nock said. “Up to that point we had won a lot, and I hadn’t run the first five meets. (I thought) ‘you guys have run so hard, and we can do so well today.’”
She was gracious with post-race well-wishers, but she had something else in mind.
“It was really hard because everybody said I did well considering,” Nock said. “That’s kind of a thing with me. ‘She did very well considering.’ But seventh was definitely not my goal and I wasn’t super disappointed, but I also thought there was more work that could have been done. I was OK with it, but this year I have a bigger goal.”
The transformation from a freshman phenom to an upperclassman capable of rallying her team and challenging for championships is not something that comes naturally. It requires an understanding and a commitment that some runners never quite get.
“This summer I spent a lot more time focusing on running, and I tried to eat healthier. I did a lot of weight lifting (a year ago), but this summer I focused more on the running part of it and on strengthening my core,” Nock said. “This year I think I’m a lot more into it. I’m enjoying it a lot more than I did. I know what it’s about. I know how the meets go. This year I’m a lot more focused. I’m more focused during practice doing the best I can. And more focused after practice. Not getting hurt easily or throwing myself around. I get ready and prepare for the next practice.”
Parker believes Nock understands what is required even if it’s taken a couple years to sink in.
“She’s running great, leading all of our practices,” Parker said. “Two years she’s been knocking on the door.”
But as he says, the previous top-10 finishes mean nothing for this year.
“You’ve got to show up at the beginning of the season and train like you’ve done nothing before,” he said. “So far this season I’d say she’s way ahead of where she was as a freshman and as a sophomore. She’s never really had a great summer until this year.”
Showing up and going through the motions will help you break a sweat, but it won’t get you to the podium at state.
“Bailey had to learn that,” Parker said. “Being competitive when everyone’s watching and fans are there, that’s a lot easier. People who are competitive every day to be the best they can, I think we’re seeing that finally in 11th-grade Bailey that we haven’t seen before. She understands the importance of long, uninterrupted training.”
“I have to work harder when it comes to the longer stuff,” Nock said. “I have to always train more mileage, and I have to really give it (my all). You can’t make up the more mileage. I can’t skip. I can’t say, ‘Oh I’ll be fine.’”
And that’s the definition of maturing, physically and mentally.