Sports Spotlight: Gillian Wagner brings much more than championships to the cross country team

Jacob Klionsky

Believe it or not, senior cross country captain Gillian Wagner wasn’t always a runner. In fact, it wasn’t until freshman year that Wagner began consistently running cross country.

After some early accomplishments, caring teammates and a supportive coach, Wagner knew that cross country would stick with her.

“Having success early on definitely helped me realize that this was something I was good at and something I wanted to pursue,” Wagner said.

However, ‘good’ might just be an understatement; as a freshman, Wagner finished sixth in all of North Coast Section (NCS), and was the first ninth-grade finisher.

Wagner rejoices after winning a race
Wagner rejoices after winning a race

Coach Laura Schmitt has witnessed Wagner progress from the very first day of her freshman year to the present, as Wagner and the cross country team prepare for this year’s NCS meet.

“She came in humble, quiet and just a lovely little girl, and then she just exploded onto the scene,” Schmitt said.

Three years later, Wagner has cemented herself among the cross country elite. After finishing second to her now-graduated teammate, Glennis Murphy, in the 2016 NCS and state championships, Wagner looks to build off of last year’s success.

“All I want out of this season is to just have some fast times, grow from what I did last year and just have fun,” Wagner said.

So far, it seems like these goals have come true. During the regular season, she won every league meet, and on Nov. 8, beat her competition in the Marin County Athletic League (MCAL) championship race by a full minute, with a time of 18:19.1. Her best 5K time is 17:28 which she ran at the Clovis invitational.

On Oct. 21 at the Mount Sac invitational cross country meet, Wagner raced a 17.13.7 three mile, placing third in the Girls D1 and D2 Individual Sweepstakes. Schmitt claims that a female racer from Redwood has never ran faster.

 Over the past two cross country seasons, Wagner has experience an immense amount of success
Over the past two cross country seasons, Wagner has experience an immense amount of success

According to Wagner, in her previous seasons, there had always been an older and faster teammate that she looked up to, but now she has become the role model for the younger members of the team.

“To be in a leadership role and a top girl on the team is pretty different and kind of weird, but it’s also very cool to know that there are younger girls looking up to me,” Wagner said.

Delaney Allen, a freshman on the varsity cross country team, feels that Wagner’s presence has helped her succeed this year. According to Allen, Wagner leads by example and constantly helps her teammates prepare their race plans.

“During practice she is the leader of the pack because we all just follow her and a few other girls.  Wherever she chooses to run, we follow,” Allen said.

Schmitt adds on and claims that Wagner’s transition to leadership didn’t surprise her at all.

Assistant Coach Jake Schmitt motivates Wagner through the latter half of a race
Assistant Coach Jake Schmitt motivates Wagner through the latter half of a race

“She naturally is a leader, and generally people who are extraordinarily successful have leadership qualities. She has a very gentle demeanor,” Schmitt said. “She doesn’t yell at kids, she supports and encourages.”

Above all else, Schmitt believes that Wagner’s best quality isn’t her leadership ability or even her physical talent. Instead, it’s her ability to create balance in her life.

Despite the chaos of high school, Wagner said she has learned to prioritize her time to focus on what’s most important for her at that moment.

“I have had to learn where I need to let things go, so if that means not hanging out with someone on a Friday night because I have race on Saturday then that’s what I’m going to do,” Wagner said. “I have had to make sacrifices, but those have definitely helped me grow as a student and an athlete which I think have given me important skills for the rest of my life.”

Wagner looks continue her success on Nov. 18, at Hayward High School in the NCS championships.