On Nov. 20, senior theology major Anna Wilgenbusch ran in the NCAA XC national cross country championship at the E.P. Tom Sawyer Park in Louisville, Kentucky. Wilgenbusch competed in nationals on the same course in 2019 and improved her overall time this year, finishing No. 34 overall.
Coach Norman “Nick” Schneigert commented on Wilgenbush’s performance in the race. He said: “She just has tremendous experience now. She placed 34th out of 292 qualifying athletes at the National Championships.”
In 2019, Wilgenbusch finished the 6k race with an overall time of 22:10.9. This year, she finished the race with an overall time of 21:46.0. She is the only runner in UD history to qualify and participate in nationals.
“It means the world to be able to represent UD at an event like that. Other teams come in huge groups on multiple buses, but just Coach [Nick] and I get to be the faces of UD. I wear my jersey with a lot of pride,” Wilgenbusch said.
Conditions on the track were favorable this year, about 55 degrees and cloudy as opposed to the mud and near freezing temperatures of 2019. Going into the race, Wilgenbusch strove to enjoy the last major race of her college career.
She said, “I was very relaxed leading up to the race.” At regionals in California, there had been much more pressure to qualify. “My mindset going into nationals was way different. I just wanted to enjoy my last race of college and do my best. I had no idea if I was going to be able to make All-American,” she said.
The race began in a frenzy of jostling and struggling for a place at the front. Wilgenbusch said: “People flew out of the starting line. With almost three hundred girls jostling for spots, there were many elbows thrown. I got a little boxed in and had to maneuver around the masses of girls, which probably cost me a few seconds.”
Similarly to the regional qualifying race in California, Wilgenbusch’s strategy was to run the first mile in about 5:45 and stick with the front 30 runners. Wilgenbusch noted that planning only goes so far, however. She said, “You can never really predict what will happen in a cross country race, so it’s often better to just trust your racing instincts, not have a defined ‘plan’ going into a race.”
Wilgenbusch said that, for her, the most memorable moment from the race was finishing it. “The most memorable moment was just crossing the finish line, knowing I’d made All-American for the second time in school history. Becoming an All-American meant so much more to me this year than in 2019 because I’ve come back from a lot and, quite honestly, I did not know if I’d be able to compete this season, let alone be competitive on the national level.”
Making All-American is an especially impressive feat for a UD student. Schneigert stated that the Core is both very challenging and the reason that many student athletes choose UD to begin with. He said: “It can be very, very difficult especially if we have 6 a.m. practices. It is very time consuming and many of my athletes would be up until 3 a.m. doing what they had to do academically so 6 a.m. workouts were difficult.”
Wilgenbusch stated that Schneigert has been an especially important part of her participation in nationals. She stated that he “has made incredible sacrifices for the team, with all the late nights he spends recruiting and early mornings he spends with the team for our workouts.” Wilgenbusch went on to say, “If I could split my [medal] in half I would.”
Wilgenbusch’s accomplishment primarily produced a feeling of gratitude. She said: “I am just so incredibly grateful to be able to do what I love — running — and to do it surrounded by the amazing support of my coach, family and teammates. I am deeply grateful.” Surely, there is no better way to finish an academic and athletic college career.