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PRESS CITIZEN ARTICLE 9-27-03
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Saturday, September 27, 2003

West's Wickman grows up fast

Prep Notes

By Susan Harman
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Sarah Wickman is no bigger than a minute, but it would take more than an hour to extol her accomplishments.

With the help of veteran teammates and a solid coaching plan created from years of developing prodigies, the West High freshman cross country runner has exceeded even the most optimistic projections.

Wickman has been West's top runner in the last three meets and has won two of those meets. West is ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and is ranked fifth in the 12-state Midwest region.

A good part of what has made Wickman so successful is her open approach to coaching and teaching. She didn't appear on coach Mike Parker's doorstep assuming that she knew it all. Eager to learn and bursting with a competitive zeal, she soaked up everything beginning last summer.

"When she got here in the summer she couldn't do anything close to what Janet (Dobyns) and Julia (Frudden), our top two runners, could do," Parker said. "She would have three times a mile on the track and she'd drop out after one. Her first workout she did one and sat out the next two."

She could not do the basic workouts in the summer let alone contemplate running over hill and dale during cross country season. She could not run five miles. But she was undeterred.

"She's not making steady improvement; she's making leap-frog improvement," Parker said.

"I'm doing better than I did in the beginning of our practices, because I had trouble running five miles," Wickman said. "I can run seven pretty easy."

Indeed, she led the team's recent seven-mile workout. She was a promising junior high track runner, but this is her first organized cross country experience. She was a swimmer a year ago.

"I didn't like it," Wickman said, wrinkling her nose.

Running is different.

"It's just fun to me," she said. "It requires skill to do, and some people just take it for granted and say, 'Oh I can run across the finish line, great.' But it's not as easy as you think. It is fun because it is a talent; you have to know how to do it. And it's fun to compete."

Parker loves Wickman's attitude. He can combine her sponge-like appetite for learning, her humility, and her competitiveness with his program's ability to nurture young runners. She not only was able to run with current West stars such as Dobyns and Frudden this summer, but with Frudden's older sister Jeni, who Parker believes is the greatest cross country runner in state history.

There has been no rush to push Wickman to these times or finishes. She has five weeks to go in the season and this is her first competitive season, unlike her teammates who have thousands of miles in their legs on which to rely.

"It's great she won the Fort Madison Invitational and she had the fastest time in all the races (at Muscatine), but in the end she'll be judged by how she does at conference, districts and state," Parker said.

Parker gives her a pace to run in most races through the first 800 meters to help rein in her competitive instincts. He doesn't want to overburden such a young runner either physically or mentally, while at the same time he tries to get the most out of workouts and meets. The hard work isn't a problem.

"I learned I can push myself harder than I think I can actually go," Wickman said.

"She is so much better now than she was even a month ago," Parker said. "In our gold group, which is our varsity top kids, she was far, far behind when we would go on a five- or six-miler. There was no way."

Dobyns and Julia Frudden, both juniors, will help take the pressure off if Wickman starts to worry about being the top dog on a team of champions. Any of those three may lead the Women of Troy in any given meet.

As Wickman has improved, her confidence has grown. She has become tougher physically. She's completely integrated into the team.

"It's not just your own thing; it's trying to help your team," she said. "You can't win your meet without everyone else."