The first-year came in first.
After 251 of the region’s best cross country athletes darted through the serene arboretum surrounding St. Olaf College, Noelle Olson — who had just started college mere weeks beforehand — came out on top.
The 18-year-old phenom’s 6k time of 21:34.4 also set the course record, and earned her National Athlete of the Week honors.
But wait. It’s not like the Ole women’s CC program lacks talent – it finished in the top 10 the last two years at the NCAAs.
Instead, the Big Lake, Minn., native is that good, already owning the school record in the 4k (14:26) and recently coming in second at the Griak Invite, a 412-runner field.
“I was so looking forward to being around people who took the sport seriously,” she said, talking about her arrival on campus this fall. “There’s such a good team here and such good coaching. I trust Chris (Daymont) and Andrea (Gelle) with my life. I love the community feel here.”
Back at Big Lake, Olson’s top finish at the Minnesota state meet – which coincidentally is always held at St. Olaf – was 29th.
So how’d she catapult herself to the front of the national D-III CC scene?
It started with getting up at 5 a.m. the past two summers and lacing up her Asics.
Running with the boys squad back at in high school didn’t hurt, either.
And then there’s her diet that would make rabbits salivate.
“Bananas are a runner’s best friend,” she said. “It’s a no-brainer food. Baby carrots are cute and easy to eat. I love veggies. And my dad got me hooked on watermelon. I love cutting one up when it’s hot during the summer.”
Peanut butter, Greek yogurt and granola round out her usual suspects. Oh, and she loves Cheerios. Not of the Honey Nut or Apple Cinnamon variety – the utterly plain ones.
“I’m pretty much a health nut,” she said. “But I do like making ice cream sundaes. And I like getting frozen yogurt, like Cherry Berry.”
Coming into college with a GPA above 4.0, Olson’s majoring in chemistry with an eye on med school or pharmacy school after getting her undergrad degree.
Her free time revolves around connecting sans electronics with the family she readily admits she’s a wee bit homesick over.
“I really like writing letters to my mom, my family, or my aunts,” she said. “I have this post thing going right now. I like sending snail mail.”
That yearning for home would be heavier if it weren’t for hospitable team captains in Moriah Novacinski, Michaela Banz, Kelsey Mullen, and Robin Stramp.
And given she’s already slapped her name on multiple collegiate records, her end-of-season ambitions are attainable.
“I know that our regional meet to qualify for nationals is here at St. Olaf, so I have that on my radar,” she said. “It’s my home turf and I want to do well there. I think nationals is my goal, and hopefully we go as a team.”