SGI senior Jess Wojtkowiak will run collegiate cross country despite not running until 2012. Photo by Dave DeLuca.
Jess Wojtkowiak remembers the first time she asked Springville cross country coach Chad Russell how to train over the summer. Wojtkowiak, a junior at the time, had never ran cross country before, she wanted to know what she could do to prepare herself for the season.
“He told me that I should be able to run six miles a day,” Wojtkowiak said. “I was like ‘ooh, I’ve never ran more than three.’ So I went home and ran six miles everyday for the rest of the summer.”
Wojtkowiak, a senior now, has no problem running six miles a day and will now be setting her sights on running cross country at Division II Mansfield University.
“After just running my junior year, this is what I’ve wanted to do,” Wojtkowiak said. “I used to want to play lacrosse in college and after one year of running, I decided that I liked running better. I always think about if I would have started sooner, but I can’t change the past. I’m excited for next year.”
In just two years of running, Wojtkowiak holds four school records. She owns the 1000, 1500 and 3000 meter records in indoor track and anchored Springville’s 4x800 relay team in outdoor that broke a school record.
“I think she’s worked incredibly hard,” Russell said. “She’s done everything I’ve asked her to do. She’s done every workout I’ve asked her to do and more. Her dedication to doing core workouts and things like that is outstanding.”
Wojtkowiak burst on to the scene as a junior. After playing soccer at Springville for four years, Wojtkowiak wanted to make a switch to cross country. She was losing interest in soccer and wanted to try something new that had more of an individual focus.
“Cross country is a team sport, but it’s individual too,” Wojtkowiak said. “If I don’t do the work, I can only blame myself, I can’t blame my team. That’s why I chose to run it. I like pushing myself.”
Wojtkowiak finished sixth at the Runner’s Roost/Checkers Invitational out of nearly 80 runners. Her cross country resume includes numerous course records for a Springville runner and a first place finish at the Alden Bulldog Invitational. As a senior, Wojtkowiak started to take a leadership role after she getting more experience in the sport.
“Once every 5-10 years you actually get a captain that can fill the role that people imagine a captain to be,” Russell said. “Jess was just a leader by example, a leader by comment, she was a leader by every angle. As a coach, it was awesome to have.
She then qualified for the NYS championships held at Cornell University in indoor track, running the 1500 and the 3000.
“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” Wojtkowiak said. “It was unbelieveable running with such good athletes. Mr. Russell came with and we just had such a good time. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Wojtkowiak was a rare, dual-sport athlete at Springville. During the the spring season, she played lacrosse and ran outdoor track. She had success in both, lead the lacrosse team in scoring and qualifying for sectionals in three events during outdoor track.
“I’m the type of person that if I put in the work, I want to see the results right then and there,” Wojtkowiak said. “With dual-sporting, I wasn’t getting the results I wanted because I was playing two sports. I learned a lot from last year, I learned what I could do and what I couldn’t do.”
Wojtkowiak will now focus solely on cross country in college. Mansfield is ranked No. 10 in the nation and is fresh off a 9th place finish in the NCAA Championships last season. Mansfield had two runners selected as All-Americans and finished as the best D-II team on the eastern seaboard. Mansfield sent Wojtkowiak a letter asking if she’d fill out a recruiting questionnaire online. Within an hour of filling out the questionnaire, she received a call from a coach at Mansfield.
“Having a coach call you just an hour after pressing the send button, it was kind of freaky,” Wojtkowiak laughed.
Wojtkowiak chose Mansfield and will run under head coach Mike Rohl. Rohl will enter his 13th year at Mansfield this fall and has elevated Mansfield to one of the top programs in the nation over his tenure. Rohl was a four-time All American as a collegiate runner and a nine-time member of the U.S national team.
Jess will study dietetics and nutrition at Mansfield and as already began her college training program.
“She’s a complete package,” Russell said. “She’s an athlete and willing to train. Sometimes all the talent in the world doesn’t do anything if you don’t have the determination and she has both. That’s kind of neat to see.”