Dream to Reality
Girls Cross Country, Sports

Dream to Reality

By Maddy Cooper

 In the sixth grade, Nicki Southerland wasn’t planning on running in high school because she found out the high schoolers ran a mile for their warm up. 

Now, she’s running over 30 miles a week and has won the state title in both the 3,200 and 1,600-meter runs in track.

Southerland has recently committed to the University of Notre Dame for NCAA Division 1 cross country and track on a full-ride scholarship. 

Nicki turns corner
Nicki Southerland competes in the IHSAA State Finals in Terre Haute on Saturday, Oct. 28. (Photo Provided)

She never knew that she would be able to run at such a high collegiate level, but her high school coach, Mackenzie Dye Conley, has always believed in her potential.

Even as a middle schooler I thought, okay, this kid is good enough that she is definitely going to be recruited by big schools,” Dye Conley said. “It’s just a matter of how hard she is going to work, and what she wants to do after she graduates.”

Southerland definitely works hard on improving. Every year of high school she’s increased how many miles she runs a week, from freshman year’s 20 miles to now running over 30. She also lifts weights in the school fitness center with the cross country team twice a week.

All of this hard work has paid off in the end. 

This year after placing second in the state finals cross country meet for the third time, Southerland received the IHSAA State Mental Attitude Award. This was only the ninth time in school history that this award has been won. 

Nicki with trophy
Nicki shows her State Mental Attitude Award after the IHSAA State Finals. (Photo Provided)

Now, four different schools from coast to coast have had Southerland visit their cross country and track programs: the University of Oregon, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, and of course, the University of Notre Dame.

Through these choices, Notre Dame stuck out to her the most.

“When I was on my official visit I just really liked the campus and meeting the team,” Southerland said. “I really liked the coaches, and I have a lot of respect for them. It’s a really great school, so I thought it would be a perfect fit for me.”

While on her visit to Notre Dame, she was able to join the cross country team in their pumpkin carving contest. 


Nicki with ND logo
Nicki has committed to the University of Notre Dame. (Photo Provided)

Southerland also said that going on so many college visits helped her learn more about herself.

“It gave me a lot of confidence that I can kind of do big things.”

One of the big things she had to learn to do by herself was flying across the country. She had to worry about not missing connecting flights and checking in on time so she had a seat on the plane.

In addition to flying by herself, Southerland has also had to learn to deal with the pressure of running at such a high level. 

She has learned from racing at a national level that it’s okay to not win every race. She uses times of not running her best as motivation for future races.

While Southerland has been able to go to the state meet for cross country all four years of high school, that hasn’t always been a possibility for girls in cross country.

Her mom Jen Southerland ran cross country in high school two years after the state meet was opened up for girls.

“Since it was a new thing for girls, we had to make sure that we looked as tough as the guys,” she said. “We wanted to prove that we deserved to have that right as women.”

This determination that her mom had to have as a high school runner shines through in Southerland as well. 

Her mental attitude and determination has also rubbed off on her teammates.

Tyler Dillon, a senior cross country and track runner who also ran at state, said, “I look up to her because she’s so good at what she does. She’s really pushed me to make myself work harder.”

Along with pushing herself and teammates athletically, Southerland also pushes herself academically. 

With being first in her class rankings academically, she has learned time management and making priorities. 

This has helped with starting her own business, Nuttin’ Butter Than This, which sells healthy nut butters at local farmer’s markets. 

Southerland has learned to work hard in every aspect of her life which has made attending her dream school, the University of Notre Dame, a reality. 


November 3, 2023

About Author

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maddycooper Maddy Cooper is a junior at Delta High School. She loves writing and hopes to be a sports journalist in the future. She plays tennis, and in her free time she loves to read, listen to Taylor Swift, and watch football or hockey.


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