MATTHEW VANTRYON | STAFF REPORTER
Fierce—this is the word Mara Olson uses to describe herself. It sums up her attitude in a nutshell.
Olson is a junior on Butler’s cross country team. She has brought her ferocity to each course the Bulldogs have run on, helping lead them to several strong finishes and a NCAA National Championship meet appearance last year.
She used it to win her first collegiate race two years ago at the Illini Challenge.
Olson said ferocity is a necessity in order for her to excel both in the classroom and on the course.
“[Being fierce] incorporates a lot of characteristics—determination, passion, tenacity. It really sums up what I’m all about,” Olson said. “A fierce person will persevere until they succeed or realize its not going to happen.”
Junior teammate Katie Good said Olson is a strong competitor.
“She is incredibly gutsy and strong minded,” Good said. She never gives anything less than 110 percent, which is hugely motivational for the rest of the team.”
Coach Matt Roe said that Olson enhances a critical dimension of the team.
“She brings toughness and focus to our team. We have those things already on our team, but we would lose some of it not having her around.”
Roe said that Olson herself to a high standard, and this rubs off on her teammates.
“She holds herself to a really high standard and that’s something that’s important in terms of accountability,” Roe said. “That creates an environment where others hold themselves to a high standard as well.”
Olson has always put the student aspect of student-athlete at the forefront of her focus, however.
Olson was a 2012 Atlantic 10 Conference All-Academic team member and was also the No. 1 student in her class academically at St. Louis Park High School in Minnesota.
Olson said she relishes the opportunity to be a stellar student at Butler.
“It’s never been about maintaining the 4.0,” Olson said. “It’s been about enjoying what I’m learning. Learning and studying are so much easier when you actually enjoy the material.”
Olson admits that it is sometimes difficult to balance both academic and athletic obligations, but said it is well worth it.
“Athletics help with academics because of the rigid schedule,” Olson said. “Finding a social balance is always tricky, but I very rarely regret being a student-athlete. It gives such a sense of fulfillment in the end.”
Olson has excelled over the course of her cross country career as well—even before she got to Butler.
Olson was a three-sport athlete in high school. None of those three included cross country—she played soccer, basketball and ran for the track and field team.
When the time for college came, she had to make a decision.
“I decided to choose running over soccer because I love soccer, but I really wanted to see what I could do in track and cross country,” Olson said. “It’s a lot easier to objectively see your progress in that sport.”
Olson began running cross country her freshman year at Butler, and she said she has progressed every year.
“Freshman year was a struggle, getting my mileage up,” Olson said. “Last year, I had a lot better year progressing. This year, I’m finally starting to hit my stride.
“I’ve got the base of miles and I’m more experienced, I know my body better, and I have the mixture of strength and speed. It’s all coming together right now.”
Olson’s high point of this season thus far was a fourth place overall finish at the Roy Griak Invitational, which featured multiple nationally-ranked teams.
She led the Bulldogs to a third-place overall finish at the invitational.
In addition to winning her first collegiate race in 2011—pushing Butler to a team victory in the event as well—she placed 11th in her only Horizon League Championship meet, took 58th in the 2011 NCAA Great Lakes Regional, and grabbed fifth place in her only A-10 Championship meet.
One of her largest contributions to Butler’s cross country program was a 28th-place showing in the 2012 NCAA Great Lakes Regional, which allowed Butler to receive an at-large bid for the NCAA National Championships.
Despite her individual accomplishments, Olson still puts the team first.
While she places pride in her ability to be a fierce competitor, her team also has the same desire, she said.
“Our team is so fierce this year,” Olson said. “We really do embody that sense of underdog. People are finally coming to terms with the fact that we’re good.”
This year’s team began ranked No. 29 in the national polls. A strong showing at the Roy Griak Invitational improved the Bulldogs’ ranking to No. 20.
The team’s next challenge will come on Oct. 19 at the NCAA Pre-Nationals.
Olson expects the team to perform well and said the Bulldogs have the confidence it takes make a statement.
“We all have that mentality when we step up to the line that we’re going to take it to these schools,” Olson said. “We’re going to give them a run for their money.”