6,000 kilometers. That’s the distance Aubrey Wingeart had to run to help the Yellow Jackets win a third straight Presidents’ Athletic Conference Championship.
The race is broken down into 3.7 miles that can make or break someone. 3.7 miles for a freshman runner in a new program to show what she means to a team that has a long tradition of excellence. 3.7 miles to hold off a Grove City team eager to reclaim their throne atop the PAC after their reign of 27-straight PAC titles ended three years ago when Waynesburg took home the title.
“I was definitely really nervous,” said Wingeart. “Grove City was pretty close to us so there was a lot of pressure.”
Michelle Cross, assistant coach for the women’s cross country team, said Wingeart’s season and championship race itself resemble that of previous successful runners that Waynesburg has had in the past.
“A lot of the girls like Julie [Gerber], Ellie [Loch], Angie [Marchetti],” said Cross.
Although Cross did mention the similarities, she said that a big challenge for Wingeart was transitioning to the longer distance.
“Her biggest hurdle is adjusting to the distance because it’s a different race,” said Cross. “That extra thousand meters is a little bit of mental adjustment.”
Mile one, the start of the race for Wingeart, began with fresh legs and nerves. Leading the Yellow Jackets out of the start, Wingeart pushed off the starting line onto the course that will become each runners own personal prison for the next 3.7 miles. The runners group up and jostle for positioning.
“For the first mile, I was in this pack of girls,” said Wingeart. “It’s not exactly where I wanted to be … so I tried to move up from there.”
The transition from running a 5k race to a 6k race was a tough one for Wingeart. She said that even though there is only a 1,000-meter difference, the affect it can have mentally is significant.
“I’m still trying to get over the whole 5k to 6k thing,” said Wingeart. “It’s only another 1,000 meters, but for some reason I think there is another 200 meters instead of three quarters of a mile.”
Mile two, where races can be won or lost for teams, began to fall apart strategically for the Yellow Jackets. It’s where most of the strategies that coaches and runners plan for take place. For Wingeart, the coaches planned on her as well as senior Teghan Simonton to draft off fellow teammate Gloria Reed.
“Teghan and I were going to run 50-70 yards behind her and then make a move from there,” said Wingeart. “But it didn’t quite go as planned.”
In the second mile, Wingeart found herself behind two of the top runners in the conference.
“Through the second mile, the top two runners separated and mentally I didn’t think I could catch them,” said Wingeart. “So, I just tried to maintain at that point.”
Mile three, the last one before the finish line, began with the Yellow Jackets losing position to Grove City. The final leg was the breaking point for Wingeart, the Yellow Jackets and the fate of the PAC Championship title.
“Coach Hardie was there with 400-meters to go,” said Wingeart. “He was shouting ‘you have to go or we are going to lose PAC’s,’ so that was difficult.”
When Wingeart finished, she thought that she could have gone faster or made a move in a different place to possibly improve the Jackets score.
“That was probably the fastest I’ve run in the end,” said Wingeart. “I probably had too much left in the tank.”
Wingeart went on to finish first for the Jackets, and third overall with a time of 24:20, helping the Jackets secure their third straight PAC championship.