Track and field heptathlete transitions into cross-country runner

Yvonne Jeschke came to UAA from Au am Rhein, Germany in 2015 as a hurdler and heptathlete for the Seawolf track and field team.

The physical education major spent the next four years becoming both a successful athlete and student. Jeschke started off strong during her freshman year outdoor track season by becoming the Great Northwest Athletic Conference 400-meter hurdle champion.

Over the years, Jeschke has competed in almost every track and field event possible: 60-meter hurdles, 400-meter hurdles, 200-meter sprint, 400-meter sprint, 800-meter run, high jump, long jump, shot put and javelin throw.

Yvonne Jeschke will be applying her track experience to the trails this cross-country season. Photo courtesy of Michael Friess.

However, she had never competed in an event for UAA longer than the 800-meter, a mere two laps on the track, which is a stark difference to the 5-kilometer and 6-kilometer races in cross-country.

“I have always enjoyed going on runs and did some community races before I came to UAA, but it has never been something serious. Once I joined the track team at UAA, the coaches and I were considering putting me on the cross-country team a couple of times, but the risk for me of getting burned out or even injured once track season starts was too high,” Jeschke said.

Now that Jeschke ran out of eligibility for track, she considered cross-country a realistic possibility while she stayed at the university through the fall to finish her minor in nutrition. She explained that she spent the summer transitioning from track to cross-country.

“After finishing my track season in May, I started a summer training program from coach Michael Friess. Over a 10-week period, I went from running 45 minutes a day and 30 miles a week up to 90-minute-long runs and 50 miles a week,” Jeschke said.

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However, despite Friess helping ease her into cross-country and creating her summer plan, he stepped down as head coach over the summer, causing some uncertainty about the future of the team.

“We had a change in our coaching staff this year with Coach Ryan [McWilliams] taking the head position and Coach Friess staying as an assistant for the cross-country team. With that, we can have a smooth transition with Coach Friess staying with his great experience for another year and slowly handing over his responsibilities and knowledge,” Jeschke said.

She explained that she is extremely relieved with this transition. While head coach Ryan McWilliams and assistant coach Ray Shadows were familiar with her track background, Friess will be a beneficial resource for Jeschke as an inexperienced cross-country runner.

Although Jeschke is competitive, she is using the one cross-country season she has to enjoy her time and help her team.

“My primary goal is to stay healthy and injury-free. With that, I can keep training and work on my goal of being a contributing factor for the team at the GNAC and Regional meets,” Jeschke said.

In each regular season meet, the top five finishers are scoring, while the sixth and seventh finishers displace athletes from other teams, making their scores worse.

Jeschke explained that she really wants to be able to help score for the team while also possibly qualifying for nationals later on.

She competed in her first regular-season cross-country meet at the Blue & Gold Run Rest on Aug. 31 at UAF. The dual meet has 18 women competing. Jeschke placed third overall, finishing the 5-kilometer race in 19:36.0. This helped the UAA women’s team overtake UAF with a total of 17 points, in comparison to UAF’s 39.

“It has been an amazing experience to see how my body can actually get to this level and without any pain or injuries. Being able to practice with the team now and run my first ever race is awesome,” Jeschke said.

Jeschke and the cross-country team will be back in action on Sept. 28 for the NCAA Pre-Nationals in Sacramento, California.