It seems somewhat fitting that, at the very end of their scholastic running careers, Abby Nichols and Micaela DeGenero are hitting the finish line as teammates at Colorado. The paths they have journeyed through have been intertwined for years.
In the fall of 2015, for instance, both runners were high school standouts in Ohio. Nichols won the state’s Division II cross country title, while DeGenero finished 35th in the Division I race (which also featured a runner-up finish from future CU teammate India Johnson).
They continued to impress in the Big Ten. Nichols stayed closer to home, becoming the first Ohio State runner to win a conference title in the outdoor 5K in 2019 while setting a school record along the way. DeGenero was a standout at Michigan during those Big Ten showdowns but was never a direct rival of Nichols, helping the Wolverines to the 2018 conference cross country team championship and qualifying for the outdoor track NCAA East Preliminaries in the 1,500 in 2019.
And, ultimately, both runners eventually wanted to explore the running world outside their Midwest bubble and embrace a bigger challenge. In the middle of the COVID-19 shutdown, Nichols and DeGenero both transferred to Colorado, and they will be two of the Buffs’ lead runners when CU begins competition at the NCAA West Preliminaries on Wednesday in Fayetteville, Ark.
“I’ve known Abby as an acquaintance, I guess, since we were high school. But we didn’t really become close friends until we both came here,” DeGenero said. “I’m so thankful that she transferred here the same time as me. We were kind of going through this transitional phase in our lives at the same time, and to be able to do that together and have each other to lean on was something that really bonded us and made our friendship really strong. Abby is one of my best friends and I’m really happy to have her as a training partner here.”
DeGenero and Nichols were two of the four CU athletes who won Pac-12 Conference championships last week, with Nichols completing a historic sweep of the 5K and 10K races. Nichols set a Pac-12 meet and CU team record in the 10K with a winning time of 32 minutes, 27.25 seconds. It was the top NCAA mark of the outdoor season, but Nichols will focus on the 5K at the NCAA Preliminaries. On Thursday, Nichols was named the Pac-12 Women’s Track Athlete of the Year, becoming the first CU athlete to win that honor.
DeGenero won an indoor national championship in the one-mile run in March, and last week she added a Pac-12 title in the 1,500. Both runners are finishing up the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA for the 2020-21 pandemic year, and after sharing so many similar experiences throughout their careers, it seems almost predestined that Nichols and DeGenero together are leading the CU women into nationals.
“I would see her at meets in high school, but we always did different events,” Nichols said. “I always knew who she was and when I found out she was coming (to Colorado) too, I was just really excited to have a friend coming from the same place. It helped me settle in here for sure, and we have similar goals in our own events. It’s nice to be able to bounce those off each other and believe in one another. She motivates me too, just watching her race.”