Oct. 26, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
After missing the 2017 spring track & field season while studying abroad, South Carolina senior distance and cross country runner Kaylee Wessel felt like she had something to prove this fall.
“I felt like I had missed a huge season for my career, training-wise,” Wessel said. “You go into every season trying to set a PR (personal record). Not being there for a season, I felt like I really had to earn my spot back because I knew it wouldn’t just be there waiting for me by the time I got back. So many girls had done really well in the spring, and I knew I would have to match up with them so I could stay where I was.”
The St. Charles, Ill., native spent last spring at Queensland University of Technology in Australia to fulfill her degree requirement for her double major of international business and global supply chain and operations management. Since returning, Wessel has done more than just earn her spot as one of the top five runners for the Gamecocks this fall.
“Over the summer, I told myself I was going to get to 21:30 [in the 6K],” Wessel said. “You never know what the courses are going to be like. Courses like the one at Georgia [site of SEC Championships] are little bit hilly, but Charlottesville, Va., [site of NCAA Regional] is on a mountain. So Georgia is another opportunity to get a PR. Getting 21:30 would put me in the top 50 in the SEC, and I know coach [Andrew Allden] is really looking to have some of us up there.”
After improving her 5K and 6K times each year with the Gamecocks, Wessel has built a solid resume with her races this fall. She opened the 2017 season by placing fifth while posting a 5K personal best time of 18:36.2 at the Carolina Challenge as the Gamecocks won the 12-team meet. She followed that up with a 6K time of 23:14.5 to finish 29th out of 80 runners at the Bulldog SEC Preview in Athens, Ga., where the Gamecocks placed fourth out of seven teams. She ran a good race at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational with a 5K time of 18:41.5 to finish 76th out of more than 200 runners while helping the Gamecocks to a 13th place finish out of 25 teams. She followed that up by taking the individual crown for the first time in her collegiate career at the Koala Classic in Columbia while helping the Gamecocks to a dominant first-place finish out of 10 teams.
“We were sinking in around the course, and it was pouring rain for the entire race,” Wessel said. “There was some mud and uneven ground. I wanted to build my confidence up for the postseason. Getting the win was good, and my sister was in town to see it, so that was nice.”
Wessel closed out the regular season with more momentum and was South Carolina’s second finisher at the Crimson Classic hosted by Alabama by running the 6K in 22:05.5, a personal best, as the Gamecocks finished 12th out of 31 teams.
“Getting a PR at Alabama, and knowing I had more in me for the rest of the season was a really good feeling,” Wessel said. “I got to run it with [freshman] Heather [Stone] (who finished a half-second behind her), and I just love having someone from the team right there because you can pull each other through the race.”
I want to put it all out there because I’ll never be in this kind of environment again.
The roots for her desire to run are easy to find.
“My mom ran at the University of Arizona,” Wessel said. “Our house is right by this trail that used to be a railroad track. I honestly think she chose that spot because the running path was so nice. She used to push me in one of those jog strollers. I started running with her when I was in the fourth grade. I joined the cross country team in sixth grade.
“I just like that you feel so accomplished after you get in a long run. It’s the best way for me to relieve stress. You’re just thinking the whole time.”
As she transitioned to competing in college, Wessel enjoys the team atmosphere in both track & field and cross country.
“Cross country is interesting because we have such a tight-knit group,” Wessel said. “In track, you have everyone, but you’re really only training with your group. When you’re in a track race, you know you’re going to have more than 100 teammates cheering for you because they can see you for the whole race, whereas in cross country, you’re just sort of lost in the woods somewhere.”
There’s no chance Wessel will be lost as she prepares for Friday’s SEC Championships. The Gamecocks ran on the same course earlier this season.
“I like the course,” Wessel said. “It’s a little bit hilly. I think the fact that we’ve already run it is good because we know how to run the course. That makes me feel really positive about it.”
While she was bummed to miss competing last spring when the Gamecocks hosted the SEC Outdoor Track & Field Championships at their recently-renovated Cregger Track, she has no regrets and still has goals ahead of her.
“It was definitely worth it to go to Australia,” Wessel said. “It’s always been on my bucket list to go to the Great Barrier Reef and go scuba diving there. I never thought it would happen, but it did! Being abroad made me appreciate what we have here. I appreciate running with the team, running in different places, and not having to figure out on my own what I’m going to do and when I’m going to have time. I like the structure of everything we have here, and our brand new track is beautiful.
“Now it’s senior year, and I want to prove that I’ve been working hard all four years. I want to put it all out there because I’ll never be in this kind of environment again. It would be really nice to PR at SECs. Finally breaking 22 [minutes] would be a great way to close out my cross country career at USC.”
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