Balancing a new academic schedule, keeping up with the laundry and going grocery shopping for the first time are usual concerns of a college freshman.

No parents are in their dorm rooms reminding them to go to class or to finish that essay they’ve been putting off for two weeks. A million social activities are trying to pull them away from their top priorities, and trying to maneuver their way through a college campus can be harder than it looks. Throw in the anxiety of being a first-year collegiate athlete and the list of adjustments gets even longer.

Former Columbus North runners Ben Rankin, Sierra Lax and Chandler Steward all managed to have smooth adjustments to becoming collegiate cross-country and track athletes at their respective schools.

“In high school, academics came a little easier with balancing running, but college is harder,” said Lax, who competes at Belmont. “I think I’ve done a nice job with it.”

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Lax and the other two former Bull Dogs all had solid first seasons on the track and cross-country course. Grace College coach Jeff Raymond knew Rankin would do well in his first year but said it was a pleasant surprise to see Rankin compete as the school’s top runner and become Grace’s first men’s cross-country All-American since 2003.

Lax was also a consistent top five cross-country runner for Belmont, which Bruins coach Ashley Casavant said is pretty incredible for a freshman.

A total of seven freshmen competed in the 800 meters at the North Coast Athletic Conference Championships. Steward, running for Wabash College, was just one of two freshmen to make the final and placed the highest with a seventh-place overall finish.

Each runner had their different obstacles to overcome at the beginning of their seasons.

“The struggles in a freshman year transition in high school running,” Casavant said. “Nobody is really immune to it, just because it is such an animal to transition to this level, let a lone a Division I level.”

Raymond does more interval training at Grace, which is something that Rankin enjoys. Rankin felt like former North cross-country coach Rick Weinheimer prepared him well for college training, but said one thing he had to get used to were the longer races.

A normal high school cross country race is 5K (3.1 miles), but Rankin was running an 8K (5 miles) once he got to college. The first race was pretty intimidating for Rankin but learned how to pace himself for the longer races later on in the season.

“I had to mentally challenge myself into pacing, and I had to realize what kind of race it was because it’s a lot different that than the 5K,” Rankin said. “Halfway through, I started getting a little better, and I was smarter with my races.”

Lax struggled with injuries through much of her high school career and said Casavant’s new approach to running has helped her stay healthy. She started with a couple by cross training with swimming and biking before building up her base mileage by performing longer runs. Lax also is giving herself Sundays off, which she said has been really great for her.

“(Casavant) helped me come back to why I love running,” Lax said. “It was a little scary at first surrendering to a new program where things were different, but I just had to have faith in all of that.”

Lax’s new training style has helped her stay injury free in her freshman year, and said she was really happy with her cross-country and track achievements. She now is running a maximum of 85 minutes on her long runs, and Casavant said long runs are one of the best determiner of an athlete’s fitness.

Lax feels that she has a solid base going into her sophomore season. The three coaches of her, Steward and Rankin are excited for the former Bull Dogs’ potential as they grow into more experienced runners.

Wabash puts a bigger emphasis on speed workouts with its distance and middle distance runners than the average high school program. Track and field coach Clyde Morgan said many of his freshmen struggle with the speed workouts early on because they are not used to working on that as much.

Morgan said Steward was used to more longer runs, and he struggled with the speed workouts when he first joined the team. Steward eventually got more comfortable with the speed training, and that is why Morgan has high hopes for him in the 800.

“I laugh when people call the 800 a distance race because it’s speed,” Morgan said. “I think next year is going to be tremendous for (Steward). We’ve had a tradition of 800 runners. We’ve had a couple of national champs, an All-American, and he knows that history. He just has to keep buying in, and he’ll be fine.”

The Fab Frosh

Name: Sierra Lax

High school: Columbus North

College: Belmont

Year: Will be a sophomore

Freshman highlight: Was one of Bruins’ top five runners for nearly the entire cross-country season


Name: Ben Rankin

High school: Columbus North

College: Grace

Year: Will be a sophomore

Freshman highlight: Became Grace’s first men’s cross-country All-American since 2003


Name: Chandler Steward

High school: Columbus North

College: Wabash

Year: Will be a sophomore

Freshman highlight: Finished seventh in the 800 meters in the North Coast Athletic Conference track meet

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5632.