GVSU distance runner knows how to finish strong
Jessica Janecke, only a redshirt sophomore, is young, was lightly recruited, is generally unassuming – and she’s the No. 1 returning finisher on the No. 1 Division II cross-country team in the nation. It isn’t by accident.
“Her work ethic is unbelievable – it’s the best on the team,” said Grand Valley State University assistant
cross-country coach Nick Polk. “From in practice to all the stuff she does outside of practice – the
core, the drills – she’s super focused. She helps everyone else because of how focused she is. People
see how strong she is and how strong she looks and I think other people want to be like her – it’s
The program is so well-established that the U.S Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association
gave it the Division II Program of the Year award in honor of current GVSU head coach Jerry Baltes. It is
so successful that Laker student-athletes and their solo accomplishments often bottleneck together in
a indistinguishable blur like cross-country runners bolting from the start box.
Only a select few Laker runners manage to get out in front of the pack and stand out from the crowd.
None more so than Mandi Zemba, who in 2005 won the overall individual National Championship in
cross-country – the first Laker to ever do so – as she covered the 6,000-meter course in Pomona,
Calif. in a time of 21 minutes and 1.7 seconds.
In her first year running competitively at a collegiate level, Janecke ran a time of 20:23.2, placing
fourth overall at last year’s national championship meet. It was the third highest finish in GVSU
history. Zemba rewrote the distance record books in 2006 by breaking six GVSU school records, and
before she’s done, Janecke will likely leave marks of her own. For now, her ambitions resemble her
approach to running– grounded, team-oriented and extremely effective.
“Cross-country is such a team sport and you have to fuel the team to do great things,” Janecke said.
“The more people you can bring with you, the better. In cross-country, you can’t go out and expect to
do things by yourself– the individual doesn’t mean anything. If you don’t have the pack with you,
there’s no point in leading a race. No matter where I finish in a race, it’s reciprocal of what they’ve
Picking up right where she left off, Janecke placed No. 1 on the Division II side in last Friday’s Spartan
Invite with a time of 21:19, her first race opportunity of the 2013 season. Pushed by a pack of
Michigan State runners as well as teammates Courtney Brewis (21:25), a senior, and junior Allyson
Wynchester (21:32), GVSU swept the top three, put four runners in the top five, eight in the top 15 and
11 in the top 25. The Lakers collectively picking up where they left off as a team. Only a minute and
nine seconds separated the Laker pack.
“At a big meet when there’s a lot of good girls, that’s the determining factor if you can win or not–
that spread,” Polk said. “Where’s your first runner, but also where’s your fifth runner? That’s the
reason we won nationals last year I think and I think that‘s what will help us win this year. We need our
five, six, seven runners to be as close to Jess as possible – it takes a team.”
Last year, Janecke’s metamorphic growth from ‘o.k.’ to top five in the nation was sudden, but with a
year under her belt she’ll no longer be running from behind. A leader on the course, she sets a spike
in every race, and heading into the season, for the first time in her career, Janecke is far from an
unknown commodity. And with a new season comes a new set of challenges.
“Staying consistent, staying healthy, running to race – making everything count – that’s my focus,”
Janecke said. “In cross-country, you don’t have a meet every week – you only race five times maybe –
and you have to be ready to perform when the time comes.”
With exceptional results come escalated expectations, and Janecke and the lady Lakers will be asked
to shoulder plenty of high hopes this season. As if running 6,000-meters pushing teammates to their
limit wasn’t workout enough.
Can the Lakers defend their title? Can Janecke continue her meteoric rise? Time always tells in running,
but when it matters most, expect both parties – Janecke and the Lakers – to finish strong.
“She’s (Janecke) learned every step of the way, embraced all the training, done all of the little things
and does everything all out – we have to make sure we’re balancing hard work with rest,” Baltes said.
“She was competitive (in the Spartan Invite) and I think one thing that we saw last year was that she
got a lot better as the season went on. Our hope is that she’ll follow that same lead this year. She’ll do
what she needs to do to be there when it counts.”