She’s going the distance

Butch McCartney

It didn’t take long for freshman Jane-Marie Ovanin to establish herself as a formidable presence in the WIAC distance running arena.

Ever since she ran her first cross-country race as a Blugold in early October, the freshman from Amherst has put together a string of solid performances that culminated with a victory in the 5,000-meter run Friday at the WIAC Championships.

Ovanin’s immediate success at the collegiate level has surprised everyone, including herself.

“I really don’t know why I’m doing better than I was in high school,” she said.

A year ago, Ovanin would have been starting her high school track season. On Friday she’ll be running in the biggest races of her life when she competes in the 5,000-meter run and distance medley relay at the Div. III National Indoor Track Championships at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio.

Ovanin’s 17-minute, 34-second effort at the WIAC Championships shattered the school record of 18 minutes set by Andrea Wilson in 1998. Even more impressive is the fact that Ovanin finished 21 seconds ahead of runner-up Tiffany Pogodzinski of UW-La Crosse.

As if one conference title isn’t enough, Ovanin won the 3,000-meter run the following day with a time of 10:11.

The WIAC honored her by naming her athlete of the meet, and the Student Athlete Advisory Committee bestowed that same honor on her. Coach Tracy Yengo said it will probably take an All-American effort in the 5K for the quiet Ovanin to fully appreciate the talent she has.

“She’s so quiet and unassuming,” Yengo said. “When I asked her what she thought about what she did last weekend (at conference) she said, ‘I haven’t thought about it.'”

To gain All-American status, Ovanin will need to place in the top eight. She’s only two seconds behind the No. 8 runner, Becky Lebak of UW-Stevens Point and 12 seconds behind the No. 4 runner.

Ovanin said she hopes to run a smooth, evenly paced race like she did at conference.

“As long as I’m relaxed, I’ll be happy,” she said. “I can’t get freaked when there are people in front of me and all around me during the entire race.”

Even if she does manage to stay calm during the race, Ovanin won’t have much time to relax afterwards.

She’ll be running the 1,600-meter leg of the distance medley relay team. The 5K is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and the distance medley relay is slated for 7:50 p.m. That’s not exactly an easy double.

“I’m kind of scared,” she said. “But I’m glad the mile is second because there’s a lot more lactic acid build-up.”

The expression lactic acid is used to describe the intense pain felt during exhaustive exercise, especially sprints and mid-distance races.

Jane’s addiction – distance running – kicked in when she started doing summer road races as an 8-year-old.

She said she was influenced heavily by her older brothers, 24-year-old Sam and 21-year-old Brian, who both ran competitively through high school.

“I kind of grew up watching them run as an elementary student,” Ovanin said. “And then I just knew I was going to be a runner.”

Ovanin’s parents, Pierre Ovanin and Maggie Woodside, are longtime recreational runners.

Like most true distance runners, Ovanin experiences the “runner’s high” on a regular basis.

“It’s always been very cleansing for me,” she said. “When I don’t go on a run for a couple of weeks, then I go, it just feels so good.”

Ovanin’s other major passion in life is art. She’s an art education major and loves almost every aspect of art.

“Both art and running can fit with so many things in life,” she said. “They teach you the importance of patience and determination.”

Ovanin’s patience was put to the test last fall. A gluteal injury kept her from running with the cross country team for more than a month.

With little training, she made her debut Oct. 5 at the Blugold Invitational in Colfax. She finished first on the team with a time of 18:58 and kept that position the rest of the season.

After taking 16th in the WIAC, Ovanin earned a national bid with a 12th place finish at regionals.

Despite Ovanin’s cross country achievements, her running style is more suited for track. As a sophomore in high school, she won the Div. III state title in the 3,200-meter run.

“She’s a track runner,” Yengo said. “She locks into a pace and she does a phenomenal job of maintaining a consistent rhythm.”

Yengo, who recruited Ovanin heavily, said she didn’t expect her to have such an instant impact on the program. “I never imagined she’d run this fast,” Yengo said. “I’ve never seen an athlete like her.”

It’s somewhat ironic Lebak is one of the runners Ovanin will likely battle to get into the top eight. When she was still at Amherst High, Ovanin would marvel at the sight of Lebak and other talented Pointer runners cruising through the streets of Stevens Point.

“I looked up to them,” she said. “They were great college runners, and I didn’t know if my ability was good enough for college.”

It’s safe to say that after five months of wearing a Blugold uniform, Ovanin is no longer questioning her ability.