Erin Hooker understood before her first year competing collegiately as a cross-country runner wouldn’t guarantee immediate success.

It was that rare level of patience from a first-year runner that helped put Hooker on the fast track to becoming a key piece on one of the country’s best women’s cross-country teams.

“This year, it’s just working hard and being involved in what’s going on,” Hooker said the week leading up to her 2014 season debut at the Roy Griak Invitational. “I have four more years to do big things.”

The then-redshirt freshman performed well in meets with small fields but struggled on the big stage.

A ninth-place performance at the Big 12 Championship and a 14th-place performance at the NCAA Midwest Regional highlighted the bright spots in Hooker’s 2014 campaign, but her 180th place finish at the NCAA Championship completed a year of inconsistency.

Hooker said she gained more confidence at the end of the track season last year, and, afterward, she compared her times with the women who finished higher than her in races.

Hooker’s summer training was consistent in mileage. The Colorado native said she ran every day, even days when she didn’t feel well.

“My training was my best training I’ve ever had,” Hooker said. “I didn’t take any time off except the two weeks after track. I would trail run in the mountains a few times a week. I think that just helps with strength and also just staying aware while running for longer distances because you have to look out for rocks or cliffs.”

The work Hooker put in during the summer has paid off in cross-country competition this fall.

She finished 79 spots higher in this year’s Wisconsin adidas Invitational than last year’s meet and seven spots higher in the Big 12 Championship.

She is living up to the expectations her coach, Andrea Grove-McDonough, set forth for her last season.

Grove-McDonough said after last year’s Wisconsin adidas Inviational that she expected Hooker to be a top-three runner on this year’s team. She also said she hoped Hooker would become the next Katy Moen, a runner who finished eighth for the Cyclones at last year’s NCAA Championship as a redshirt senior.

Hooker is ahead of schedule. She’s been a top-two runner for Iowa State in three of the four meets she’s competed in this season. Her performances at this year’s Wisconsin adidas Invitational and Big 12 Championship respectively are 23 and 12 spots better than Moen’s performances in those meets as a redshirt sophomore.

“[Hooker’s] progressed like an athlete should,” Grove-McDonough said. “But to see her be able to put those pieces together and to have that click and that confidence and poise. And now I can say I have tremendous confidence in [Hooker], which is not necessarily how we felt last year at this time.”

Hooker’s 11-point total in her first two Big 12 championships is the second lowest two-meet total for an ISU runner in the first two Big 12 championship appearances since the conference transitioned from the Big 8 to the Big 12 in 1996.

She has finished in the top-10 percent of competing runners in all four meets this season after completing the feat in just two out of the five meets she competed in last year.

“This year, I am much more confident, and I’m not intimidated by the competition or by workouts or by races,” Hooker said. "And I think that just comes with more experience.”

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