Tessa Jeffery, at home in Fonthill. BERNIE PUCHALSKI

Tessa Jeffery signs with NCCA D2 Washburn University

Tessa Jeffery’s desire to follow her sister has landed her a full-ride NCAA Division 2 cross country scholarship at Washburn University, in Topeka, Kansas.

“I started cross country in Grade 3,” the 17-year-old Fonthill resident said. “My older sister [Emma Kate] did it and I decided I was going to be just like her. I was going to follow what she did. I was just doing it for fun and I thought, whatever. Then I went to the first meet and realized I was actually pretty good.”

That year, competing against both Grade 3 and 4 students, she placed 12th at the District School Board of Niagara meet and her career was off and running.

“I kind of just trained on my own and at Glynn A. Green and that’s how it all started.”

She would end up winning DSBN titles in Grade 4, 6, 7 and 8 and started training with Athletics Niagara. Her success carried on to high school at E.L. Crossley where the now-Grade 12 student won multiple zone titles and Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association crowns in cross country and the 3000 metre event in the spring track and field season. At the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations level, top performances included sixth in cross country and fifth in the 3000 metres.

Wayne Rae, Athletics Niagara’s distance and head coach, has expected big things from Jeffery ever since he started training her in elementary school.

“She is a girl who once she puts her mind to something, she goes after it, that’s for sure,” he said. “It has been a pleasure coaching her, she has alway shown a lot of potential and I am so glad that she ended up getting a scholarship.”

Rae feels it’s determination that makes her an excellent distance runner.

“She always came to practices with the mindset of doing her workout and doing it the best that she could,” he said. “I knew this was going to end up in her getting some form of scholarship somewhere because of her ability to focus and be so determined.

“I am expecting good things from her as well once she gets to university.”

In the last few years, Jeffery feels she has made some excellent strides.

“I am stronger mentally and I know how to handle situations better. If I’m behind, I don’t panic because I have the experience and I know how to run now,” she said. “It’s no longer about how fast I am running but about strategy and knowing when you can beat another people.”

She studies races and finds runners similar to her who she can look up to.

“It’s helped me to realize racing is not a bad thing or scary but it’s fun, it pushes you and it makes you a better person.”

She has always been passionate about running.

“It’s a sport that completely pushes you and makes you stronger and you realize it’s more of a mental sport than physical,” Jeffery said. “It always pushes you and even at the end where people are on the ground rolling around or puking, you know you did your best.”

Jeffery started contacting schools in Canada and the United States last summer and then posted her profile on the Next College Student Athlete recruiting website.

“From that, I got a lot of coaches emailing me and I had multiple conversations. I was able to see all the different kinds of coaches and schools and figure out what worked for me.”

She ended up with a short list.

“Pretty much from the start, I always wanted to go to the States and I narrowed it down to three schools— the University of South Dakota, Coastal Carolina, and Washburn University.”

All three made offers to her as did other schools such as Baylor.

Washburn, an NCAA Division 2 school, ended up being her ultimate choice over the other two Division 1 schools.

“The coach asked me if I would rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond and I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond.”

She also loved the coach’s philosophy.

“He has the best ideas. He told me that I would still be young when I was running [in university] but I could run and be at my peak at 30 or a bit later. He told me he wanted to make sure that I could run for as long as I could competitively and that’s what I want to do.”

The school itself was also a deciding factor.

“I wanted a smaller school with a low student-to-professor ratio because academics are really important to me,” she said. “And obviously through the pandemic, we have been doing a lot of research and they have one of the better online ways of learning. If [the pandemic] is a long-term thing, I have a school that knows how to do it.”

She has set a high goal for her freshman season.

“My goal is to make it to the NCAA championships and that is what I am striving for. I am keeping that in the back of my mind as I train through the winter and through track season this year.”

She’s looking forward to the entire university experience.

“It’s meeting new people and being with a bigger team where we can all push each other.”

Jeffery plans to major in biochemistry with the long-term goal of being a pharmacist or a medical doctor.


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