Throughout her time at Legacy High School, Melanie Nun was an exceptional runner, but never a champion.
So, Colorado assistant coach Billy Nelson approached her about becoming a Buffalo, she was more than surprised.
"I never even thought CU would consider me," Nun said.
The Buffs liked her potential, but even they didn't expect what they got out of Nun this past season.
Nun surprised herself — and her coaches — by becoming one of the top runners for the cross country team. Then, she surprised everyone by trying — and then excelling — in the steeplechase.
"I think my freshman year was pretty shocking," Nun said. "They recruited me and they were excited to have me, but I don't think they expected me to do so well. And, I definitely didn't expect to run the times I did. It's really exciting. It's really cool. I never thought I'd be in this position."
CU has developed a reputation for producing champion steeplechasers, especially on the women's side. Jenny (Barringer) Simpson won three national titles in the steeplechase from 2006-09. Emma Coburn won titles in 2011 and 2013, and Shalaya Kipp won in 2012. Kipp capped her career with a fifth-place finish at nationals last month.
Just last week, Coburn set a new American record in the steeplechase — breaking the mark previously held by Simpson.
With that trio — all of which competed in the 2012 Olympics — having moved on from college, assistant coach Heather Burroughs said people often ask who the next great one will be at CU.
Last month, head coach Mark Wetmore suggested it could be Nun.
"They've told me I could be good at this," Nun said. "When Mark Wetmore comes up and tells you, 'You could be good at the steeplechase,' with the athletes he's coached — he's an incredible coach — it's really motivating, I think."
Nobody viewed Nun as a steeplechaser going into the year. In fact, other steeplechasers were a couple of months into training before Nun gave it a shot.
"I tried it out and it was fun and I liked it, so we went with it," Nun said.
The steeplechase is known as the most dangerous event on the track, because it includes a solid barrier, about 30 inches in height, that is followed by a pit of water. Running the steeplechase requires great stamina, focus and mental toughness. Nun figured that out early on in practice.
"The very last hurdle I did before my first steeplechase race, I totally wiped out and I was terrified," she said.
On April 26, Nun competed in the steeplechase for the first time. She didn't face great competition, but took first place at the Jack Christiansen Invitational in Fort Collins.
More so than winning, Nun was pleased she didn't fall. That race was big in the coaches' eyes, though.
"She was actually better in the race than she had been in practice," Burroughs said. "That's meaningful, because she's calm under pressure. At the end of that race, we said, 'There are the skills. The potential is there.' It was pretty revealing."
While the potential is there, nobody is putting pressure on Nun to be the next great steeplechaser. Burroughs said Nun isn't nearly as natural as Coburn and Kipp were in the beginning. Nun admitted she still needs to get the mental aspect of the event down in order to excel.
Then again, she's just getting started.
"I'm intrigued," Burroughs said. "I can't project that in two years she'll have a chance to contend for an NCAA title, but I think she could be pretty good at it."
It doesn't hurt to have CU's legends — Coburn, Kipp and Simpson — training alongside of her most days, giving advice along the way.
"One day I was jumping over the water jumps and Jenny, who was the American record holder at the time, stopped and was giving me advice," Nun said. "I just thought that was the coolest thing ever."
Whether or not Nun reaches that level won't be determined for a while, but she's got the desire to work hard and find out just how good she can be.
"It's a great opportunity," she said. "When you're out there steeplechasing, you realize how great of an opportunity it is. You're a little scared that they might be like, 'This isn't the race for you,' and you're like, 'No, no, I want to contribute to this legacy as much as possible.'"