In four years at Nebraska, senior runner Erika Freyhof accomplished plenty. Some notable feats include two All-Midwest Region honors, two Nebraska Most Valuable Runner awards and even a trip to Nationals in 2020.
With COVID-19 giving her a fifth year, she’s looking to make this season her most memorable one yet, both as a runner and a teammate.
“When I came here, I had a lot of goals and I looked up to a lot of people,” Freyhof said. “Now the roles have kind of reversed. It adds pressure but in a good way. It holds me accountable, I can share what I’ve learned here, and I can help my teammates every day. I want to be their peer, just hang out with them and get to know them.”
Due to COVID-19, the 2020 cross country season was cut down for Nebraska. However, because of the shortened season, the NCAA allowed all fall athletes an extra year of eligibility.
Freyhof competed in the 2020 season as a senior, and even earned her bachelor's degree from Nebraska as a nutrition and health sciences major in May 2021. Now, with a fifth year of collegiate running underway, she’s treating this season like it’s truly her last.
“I just need to put in the work every day, but also enjoy this season,” Freyhof said. “I want to enjoy it with my teammates and just running in general. I don’t know what the future holds so I just want to enjoy every memory and every race for my last year of collegiate running.”
Freyhof is coming into her fifth year with many achievements. Along with the aforementioned regional honors, team-given awards and a Nationals appearance, Freyhof is also entering the year with a lot left to be done.
Last year, the Hamilton, Michigan native finished sixth in the 6k run at the Big Ten Championships with a time of 20:41.2, which was a new personal best. This performance is what punched Freyhof’s ticket to her first NCAA Championships. There she finished 86th overall in the 6k run with a time of 21:26.0.
But even with a new best time and a trip to Nationals, the season itself didn’t feel too much like a season to Freyhof. Now that the team has a regular-season back for the 2021 campaign, Freyhof is happy year five will feel somewhat normal.
“I didn’t realize I missed cross country so much until we started running again,” Freyhof said. “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s kind of sad this is my last season, but I’m happy that it’s going to be a normal season.”
However, this season isn’t entirely normal. After all, it’s the first year for new head coach Matt Wackerly. Prior to Wackerly’s hire, Dave Harris coached Freyhof for the entirety of the runner’s career. Yet, despite the change in coaches, Freyhof loves Wackerly’s spirit.
“It’s different, but it’s a really positive experience,” Freyhof said. “I like the enthusiasm and optimism coach has with this season. It really gets me excited for the season and the chance to compete.”
So far this season, Freyhof has picked up right where she left off. Although she didn’t run at the Augustana Twilight, she did compete in the Greeno/Dirksen Invitational. There she finished second overall in the 5k with a time of 17:07.25.
This time is just six seconds shy of her personal best, but was her best in the terms of the specific course. Her previous best at Greeno/Dirksen was a fifth-place finish and a time of 17:33 back in 2019. In terms of the personal best time, Freyhof’s top time in the 5k was her third-place finish at the Augustana Twilight in 2019. She ran a 17:01.2 there.
“[Erika] Freyhof has an enormous capacity for work,” Wackerly said. “Some weeks she runs an upward of 75 miles across only six days. Most people can’t do that because they may not have the mental capability or physical capability to do it. That just goes back to her work ethic, being able to do the little things.”
The Huskers are halfway through their regular season, with two meets left before the Big Ten Championship, then the NCAA Midwest Regional and finally Nationals. Freyhof’s goals are to replicate a top-10 finish at the Big Ten Championship, qualify for Nationals once again and possibly earn All-American honors.
It’s through this mindset that Freyhof has built up the confidence to achieve her goals. But it’s also the reason why Freyhof’s passion for the sport has grown.
“It’s gotten stronger, but I also gained more confidence in myself for it,” Freyhof said. “Just knowing I can be with some of the top girls in the nation just gives more confidence when I compete. But I also just love the grittiness of cross country.”
There have only been five female runners to earn All-American honors in Nebraska history. The last Husker to receive the honor was alumni Kayte Tranel back in 2005. Tranel earned All-American after finishing 28th at Nationals.
It’s a goal that seems difficult, but regardless of the outcome, Wackerly knows Freyhof will go down in Nebraska history for her drive.
“Not only is she our best runner we have right now, but she has the chance to be one of the best runners this program has ever had,” Wackerly said. “She can be an All-American, or at the least create the argument that she’s one of the top two runners in the history of the program. It’s where we are and it’s what we’re shooting for.”