May 31, 2017
By Steve Kornacki
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The 5,000- and 10,000-meter races are the longest in the Big Ten Women's Outdoor Track and Field Championships. To win both endurance tests, a runner must cover what converts to 6.2 miles on Friday and then 3.1 miles on Sunday, and do so faster than everyone else in both fields.
University of Michigan senior Gina Sereno recently became the third to accomplish that 5,000 and 10,000 repeat by following up on her 2016 championship runs at those same distances at the recent conference meet in State College, Pennsylvania.
"I know that Mindy Rowland did it," said Sereno, referencing the Wolverines distance ace who produced the same race victories in 1989 and 1990. "Doing it is obviously empowering. I never expected to be in this position coming in as a freshman walk-on. I didn't think I'd ever go this far in running.
"It just keeps getting better and better, and more and more exciting each time."
Wolverines women's distance coach Mike McGuire decided against getting "greedy" and having Sereno run the double-distance challenge in last weekend's NCAA East Preliminaries at the University of Kentucky.
"I really wanted to run both (the 5,000 and 10,000)," said Sereno, "but my coach was hesitant. He said, 'Yeah, you could qualify in both.' But it wouldn't really be pertinent to race twice at the national meet and finish maybe 13th and 13th rather than going for the higher podium finish in just one event. And Coach (McGuire) knows his way around."
McGuire's strategy worked.
She won her 5,000-meter NCAA heat in 16:28.03 Saturday (May 27) in Lexington, Kentucky, and will advance to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships held June 8-10 in Eugene, Oregon.
"I'm not greedy," said McGuire. "She actually brought it up, and that is something we will entertain next year. And with her kick she's pretty dangerous (in the 10,000), but it was a little too ambitious to have to run six of those races in Big Ten, regionals and nationals in a very short time."
McGuire has coached five NCAA champions and 138 All-Americans, including Sereno. His cross country teams have finished second twice nationally, and he's a 10-time Big Ten Coach of the Year. He learned under legendary Wolverines distance coach Ron Warhurst, 1976-79, and was an All-American himself.
"He's been an amazing influence," Sereno said of McGuire. "I couldn't be luckier or have a better coach in a collegiate setting. He pushes you in ways that you don't always realize you're being pushed in. He's not a coach to baby you or over-compliment you when you're successful, or really yell at you when you've done poorly. He does a great job of giving the right amount of feedback when it's necessary. He really knows what he's doing without having to think too much about it."
McGuire said, "Gina has an even-keel disposition in preparing, and she has tremendous competitive fire. A lot of her development has to do with the type of person she is. She was a recruited, non-scholarship athlete, and her performances weren't there (in high school) but we felt that she could get there. Gina is an example of what somebody can accomplish in a situation like hers, and I believe in people like Gina Sereno. She's on a significant scholarship now, and rightfully so."
Sereno has five Big Ten titles, having also won the 3,000 meter run at the 2017 indoor conference meet in a career-best 9:07.00.
She runs 70 miles per week at this time of the year and has some favorite running spots near the Huron River located north of the campus.
"I like the trails over by Argo Park," she said. "We call it the 'Dam Run' because it goes over two dam areas. There are some other trails we call the 'Bird Trails,' just any woodsy area is what I really like."
Sereno said, "I would imagine there was a string between their back and my forehead. It helped me focus and continue when it's hard."
The Wolverine women won Big Ten championships both indoor and outdoor in 2016, and Sereno took a special pride in that.
"That was super special," said Sereno, who wanted to send the seniors "who took me in" as a freshman off on a high note.
Now she's a senior, having graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, and plans to pursue a master's program in the Ross School of Business while using the year of athletic eligibility she has remaining after red-shirting as a freshman.
Running has led to so much for Sereno, but she had no way of knowing that when she made an important decision in high school.
Sereno played soccer and tennis and was a swimmer as well. She decided to focus on one sport at Madison (Wisconsin) West High, and came down to tennis or cross country.
"I found I liked the running part of all of those sports," said Sereno,"and so I just kind of went with running."
She also practiced ballet for 15 years, and the discipline she learned as a dancer has benefited her as a runner.
"You learn patience in ballet," said Sereno, "and in the long distance runs you have to be a little bit conservative and patient over 12 or 25 laps around the track. You can't expend all your energy right away, and ballet definitely teaches that."
Patience also comes in handy in knowing the right time to make your move in a distance race, and Sereno did that on the final laps of her Big Ten championships.
She beat Indiana's Katherine Receveur by five-hundredths of a second in the 5,000 with a winning time of 16:23.24. Sereno finished first by two and one-half seconds in the 10,000 by outkicking both Penn State's Jillian Hunsberger and Indiana's Margaret Allen to win in 33:52.02.
"You give it everything you've got if you're still in position to with 150 (meters) to go," said Sereno. "But leading up to that point, there's a fair amount of strategy of pushing when you feel good or conserving when you're a little tired in order to regain your composure.
"But with 200 to go, it's all guns blazing."
She's gone from walking on without a scholarship to running away from the field against the Big Ten's top competitors, and now chasing NCAA glory in Eugene.