Cameron Nielsen will be quick to correct you if you say he spent all of last year’s track and field season running behind fellow freshmen Garrett McSheffrey and Noah Phillips.
“I was more than just chasing them,” the Northwest Christian High School sophomore admits. “I wasn’t even close. I was always a ways back.”
No shame there, however, as McSheffrey and Phillips were two of the top performing rookies at last season’s Class 2B state meet with each athlete placing among the top 10 in multiple events.
Navigators Coach Mike Michael knew he had budding superstars in the gifted duo.
What he didn’t know is 12 months later the powerful tandem would become a trio.
After months of hard work, combined with a near seven-inch growth spurt, Nielsen now finds himself running stride for stride with his teammates – a scenario that makes the Northwest Christian boys track team a state contender once again this season.
“After his freshman year he decided to commit and worked really hard,” Michael said about Nielsen. “He dropped 2 ½ minutes off his time in cross country. He trained hard all summer and he was as steady as anyone all winter long with his conditioning. Last year, Cameron was the new guy on the team, but now the gap between him and Noah and Garrett has closed significantly.”
In the 2B classification all three are ranked currently among the state’s top five runners in the 3200 – a feat no other program can claim in any event.
Phillips sits in third with a top time of 9:54.89, while McSheffrey (10:08.83) and Nielsen (10:16.88) hold the fourth- and fifth-place slots, respectively.
Phillips also holds the third spot in the 1600 (4:32.61), while McSheffrey (4:33.86) ranks fourth. Nielsen rounds out the state’s top 10 in the event, stopping the clock in 4:41.70.
“We’re just pushing each other every day,” said Phillips, who finished seventh at state in the 800 and eighth in the 3200 last year as a freshman. “One of if not the most important aspect in running is having good training partners. We have that here.”
While Nielsen’s times are the big surprise this year, Phillips and McSheffrey have been going at it since the fifth grade. What started as an on-the-track rivalry with both runners attending different elementary schools and junior highs blossomed into a friendship last season when both enrolled at Northwest Christian.
“We were always really super competitive with each other,” Phillips said about McSheffrey. “It seemed we would swap first and second every time we ran against each other all the way through eighth grade. When we got to Northwest Christian the competitiveness was still there, but we also became great teammates.”
McSheffrey, who also holds the third-fastest 800 time (2:02.31) this season among 2B runners, was also a multiple medal winner at last year’s state meet, finishing ninth in the 800, fifth in the 1600 and ninth in the 3200.
“These guys are the reason why we have that big school record board in the gym,” Michael said. “They can look at those times and see what the goals are, and then go out and push each other to try and reach them.”
The Navigators finished second at the state meet as a team for a second consecutive year in 2017.
Graduated from last year’s squad was Luke Schilter, who won three state titles, and state placers Corban Phillips and Peter Kosierowski.
Michael could pretty much pencil in McSheffrey and Phillips to generate some team points at the state meet, but would need some of the newer faces to step up if the Navigators wanted to break away from the runner-up status they’ve been saddled with the last two years.
Nielson appears to be one of those athletes.
“He just bought in and became a student of running,” Michael said. “He comes to me all the time and will tell me about statistics and times and where he stacks up with everyone else in the state. He is so aware of everything going on and just wants to do whatever he can to improve.”
Interestingly, running was not even on Nielsen’s radar when he started high school. Barely reaching 5-foot-2 in height when he entered Northwest Christian as a freshman, Nielsen was initially going to play basketball for the Navigators.
“I figured I was a little too short for the game when I was a freshman,” joked Nielsen, who now stands 5-9.
Like many Northwest Christian students before him, Nielson stumbled into the cross country program last year, igniting the running spark inside him.
“I didn’t even know I was going to join cross country,” Nielsen said. “Now I’m hooked. I have the best teammates and best coaches possible. Every time I run with my teammates I gain confidence. It’s definitely been encouraging. I couldn’t do it without someone in front of me.”