As junior Gillian Wagner crosses the finish line at any of her track meets, her teammates and spectators go wild. She is congratulated as she walks away with a first place title, but a first-place finish is not an anomaly in her running career. Taking home the win has become a norm for Wagner.
Wagner has been running as a varsity athlete on both the cross country and track team since her freshman year, but reached a milestone at the Stanford Invitational meet on April 1, where she placed first in the 3000-meter race with a time of 9:58, the fastest time in the nation for high school runners in the 3000 meter.
The Stanford Invitational was the first time Wagner competed in a 3000-meter race, as she usually competes in shorter events, according to Wagner. However, this unfamiliarity with a new distance didn’t stop her from entering the race with enthusiasm and confidence.
“I was put in the race so I knew I had to run fast, and I had a good cross country season so you could say [that] inspired me to do well in the longer track events. I’d never really run anything like that so I was super excited to just go out with no expectations and just see what happened,” Wagner said.
Wagner had initial success during her freshman year, after qualifying for the 800-meter run at the California State Meet. Since then, Wagner said that she has continued to improve in both strategy and strength.
Cross country and track coach Laura Schmitt grants much of Wagner’s success to her technique, which comes from her exemplary work ethic.
“It’s not an accident. It’s not talent,” Schmitt said. “She’s absolutely talented but the thing that tips her over is her work ethic and her awareness to details, awareness to taking care of the things that not everyone is aware or cares to take care of.”
The work ethic that Wagner presents also has a positive effect on her teammates, because the tight-knit cross country team has watched her progress throughout her years of running.
“She’s always there, she’s always trying her hardest,” said sophomore Liam Anderson, Wagner’s long distance teammate. “She and [Glennis Murphy] are always pushing the pace. She works hard and that’s why she runs fast.”
But besides her ability to work hard, Wagner has a great deal of inherent talent for the sport, not only in her athletic capabilities but also in her talent in handling the stress of a competition. She can apply what she’s worked on in practices into her performance in competitions, according to Schmitt.
“When she hears a [start] gun, she is competitive and she knows exactly what to do, and she does it when it’s necessary in a race. If you’re running a mile, you don’t just go out there and run a mile. There are strategies and she implements them with absolute confidence and poise,” Schmitt said.
Wagner knows there is still room to grow as a runner, and she hopes to continue practicing throughout her high school career and beyond.
“I think now I’m able to use competition more in a way that makes me better. And I’m still getting faster and all that,” Wagner said. “There’s so much time left in high school, and maybe beyond, so I know I’m still progressing on it. It’s an upward trajectory which is cool.”