Cross-country: Gillett freshman has dominating season

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Sylvia Hansen has 3 wins and 2 runner-up finishes

Greg Bates, Times Herald correspondent

Gillett High School freshman Sylvia Hansen placed second overall with a time of 19 minutes, 41 seconds at the Wisconsin Rapids race on Saturday. Hansen has won three races and placed runner-up twice this season. (Photo courtesy of Emily Young)

Sylvia Hansen couldn’t have asked for a better start to her varsity cross-country career.

The Gillett freshman took first in her first race at Gibraltar on Aug. 24.

Was it a fluke? Beginner’s luck? No. Not even close.

Eight days later, Hansen hit the course at Freedom and placed second overall, first in her division.

Eight races into her career, Hansen is showing why she was such a dominant runner in middle school. She has won three races, placed second twice and finished third, fourth and seventh.

“I figured coming in she would do well,” Gillett cross-country coach Emily Young said. “You can never know what can happen and anybody can have a really good season. You can have sleepers that come in and you’re not expecting that. I expected Sylvia Hansen to have a good season. I just didn’t know if she’d be taking first at some of the meets.”

Hansen, 15, even surprised herself.

“I never expected to do as well as I have been doing, but I’m excited to see how far my training will take me this year,” she said.

Her confidence has continued to grow in every meet.

“After she won her first two and then she started doing really well in the other ones, especially the bigger meets, I think she got better confidence,” said senior Lauren Herzog, Hansen’s teammate.

When she was young, Hansen ran in a few races but didn’t take the sport too seriously. In sixth grade, she decided to go out for the Gillett Middle School cross-country team. It was a learning experience.

Since the Gillett program is small, Hansen was able to train with the varsity girls. That was the push she needed. During her seventh-grade season, Hansen won nearly all her races. The next year, she went undefeated.

She was primed for racing against older, more experienced runners.

“Coming in as a freshman, I knew I was going to have a lot more competition than I did in middle school,” Hansen said. “As a middle schooler, I never really had the opportunity of competition.”

Hansen thrives on getting pushed.

“She keeps on progressing, getting faster, getting better,” Herzog said. “She welcomes the challenges of running high school races longer, running faster. She gets up with the front girls and stays with them, and it’s really working out for her really well.”

Hansen prepared for her first season at the varsity level by diligently training over the summer. She participated in Gillett’s summer running program and was always ready to work. Hansen generally ran 40 to 45 miles per week, taking off just one day during the weekend to recover. She also hit the weight room, strengthening her legs and doing a series of abdominal workouts.

“She has God-given talent, but that obviously only goes to a certain point,” Young said.

Off the course, Hansen is quiet and unassuming. On the course, she makes a loud impact.

“She’s a very determined runner,” Herzog said. “She’s very fluid, her form is just great.”

Hansen clocked a personal-best time of 19 minutes, 25 seconds at Freedom. Her slowest time of 20:46 was at Westfield, but she still won the race.

“During races I tell myself, ‘Hey, I got to touch that next girl,’” Hansen said. “I love winning. I have a passion for it. I like competition, and it feels good to be placing that well.”

After finishing a season-low seventh at Pulaski, Hansen was a little upset and disappointed. However, she quickly came to the realization she is only a freshman and was taking on some solid Division 1 and 2 runners.

Young calls Hansen one of the best freshman runners in the state.

Gillett will compete in the WIAA Division 3 sectional race Oct. 21 in Westfield. Gillett’s race at Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday took place on a portion of the course where the state meet will be held three weeks later.

Knowing those two courses should help Hansen to train accordingly.

“I definitely think she has a great chance of making it to state,” Young said. “People ask and I say, ‘Yes, she has a great shot if Sylvia Hansen takes care of who she is.’ If she is worrying too much about other people, I think that loses your vision of what an individual can do. If she shows up the way she has been showing up, she’ll definitely have a really good chance. I think she’ll place very well at state, if she makes it, too.”

“I really plan on making it to state,” Hansen said. “I really want to do well. I kind of want to make it in the top 10 for state. That’s my goal right now.”