Oct. 19, 2013
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- She tried basketball, dance, gymnastics, soccer and softball, but in the end, sophomore Lisa Gordon chose running.
And despite attempts to resist copying the college choice of her mother, high school coach and several classmates, Gordon is one happy University of Iowa Hawkeye.
She smiles remembering the day she experienced that "Iowa feeling" she once denied ever existed.
"Before then I said it wasn't a real thing," Gordon said. "But I got a call from (head women's cross country) coach (Layne) Anderson and I came for an official visit. When I got on campus I got that feeling that this was the right school for me, and I didn't turn back."
Gordon is from Western Springs, Ill., and she competed at Lyons Township. Her high school coach was Stetson Steele, the same Steele who earned indoor and outdoor All-America honors in 2000, becoming the ﬁrst Hawkeye distance runner to earn both in the same year since head men's cross country coach Larry Wieczorek in 1967.
"I knew early on (that Steele attended the UI)," Gordon said. "He wears a lot of Hawkeye stuff. I didn't look at Iowa initially because he and my mom (Barbara) both went here and raved about it; I wanted to do my own thing."
So Gordon gave a verbal commitment to a different Big Ten Conference institution. Then she was overcome by the "Iowa feeling." The new convert finally understood why her coach was so fond of his alma mater.
"He never pressured me to go here, but knowing he came here and had a great experience and he never had anything bad to say about it influenced me," Gordon said. "It has also helped a lot knowing that coach Anderson knows the kind of training I came from."
In high school Gordon was a four-time cross country team MVP, three-time all-state in track, while setting school records in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200-meter runs, as well as the school 3K cross country mark.
"I felt Lisa was somebody with a lot of room to improve and grow," said Anderson. "I liked her personality, she is an outstanding student. She is not afraid to work and as she moves forward, she is showing the ability to handle more and more work."
Gordon totaled between 35-40 miles per week in high school and typically maxes out at 50 miles in college. Her cross country season is currently in limbo as she deals with a leg injury. Gordon started, but did not finish, the Iowa Open on Aug. 30; she was 30th at the Black & Gold Invite on Sept. 13. Both meets were held on the Ashton Cross Country Course.
"Right now I'm mental support," Gordon said. "I remind them they are here for a reason, and they are traveling (to meets) because coach is confident in their ability and fitness. I remind them they have run in big meets before, against good competition."
At the 2012 regional championships, the top four Hawkeye finishers were seniors, followed by Cindy Saliba, Gordon, and Courtney Martin. Saliba, Gordon and Martin -- all sophomores who live together -- have filled a leadership void.
"(Gordon) verbalized to me, I didn't have to approach her," Anderson said. "She and two of our other sophomores said we want to take on more of a leadership role. We're going to have a young team next year, so we want to welcome these young ladies in, get them integrated into the university, athletics department, and team setting."
In two seasons, Gordon and the other sophomores have been part of two different types of team dynamic.
"Last year I got to take on the role of `Oh, I'm here, I can follow their lead,'" she said. "This year we have freshmen looking up to us, looking at us for direction, so it is that leadership role."
Regardless of how the cross country season turns out, Gordon is eager for a return to the track. While she has no trouble competing at cross country's 6 kilometer distance, her strength is on the track at 1,500 meters, 3K, and 5K.
"I'm a lot more comfortable on the track right now," Gordon said. "I had more success initially on the track, so when you're good at something, you tend to like it a little bit more."
During the 2013 outdoor track season, Gordon led the Hawkeyes in the 1,500 and 3,000-meter runs and ran the second leg on the 6,400-meter relay team that placed fourth at the Drake Relays.
"Going into the summer I knew I was more fit than I had been in other summers," Gordon said. "I knew I could do more and handle more, and then coming into this season I had that success in the back of my mind."
Gordon spent last summer at home in Illinois, but she intends to stay in Iowa City this offseason to work, train, and seek research opportunities in speech and hearing science. Gordon is also majoring in psychology.
Spending summers in Iowa will also create a stronger bond with teammates.
"I'm not the most vocal person on the team so I try to lead by example: crossing my T's and dotting my I's, little things like going to the training room," Gordon said. "We have a young team which is hard right now.
"It is also exciting because we're going to be able to spend three or four years with each other. The most important thing to having a good team is being close on and off the course. When you feel like you're close outside, you're more willing to push yourself for them during races. One of my goals is to foster a good team atmosphere and help bring the team success."
And revel in that Iowa feeling.