By David Fong
TROY — Morgan Gigandet’s entire high school career has been predicated on getting to the finish line first.
When it came time to make the biggest decision of her life, however, the Troy High School senior cross country/track and field star decided a slower pace was more to her liking.
“I wanted to find the right fit,” Gigandet said of her search for a college program at which to run next year. “All of the schools I was looking at were great. It did get a little stressful when I saw everyone else signing, but I wanted to go at my own pace. I had a lot of fun the last month visiting schools. Usually I like to get everything done really fast — I always have to get my homework done right away, even if its for an assignment that’s not due for a month. But I really wanted to take my time and let all of my options sink in.”
With a little more than a week left before national signing day, Gigandet — the most-decorated distance runner in Troy High School history — selected Iowa State University, where she’ll go to school and run both cross country and track next school year. Iowa State beat out a field that included Boise State University, Arizona State University, the University of Tennessee and Furman University.
In the end, what put Iowa State ahead of the competition were the relationships Gigandet formed with head coach Andrea Grove-McDonough and her future teammates. Grove-McDonagh has turned Iowa State into one of the top programs in the nation, guiding the Cyclones to six Big 12 titles in the past seven years and nine NCAA Championship appearances in a row.
“I really liked the coach,” Gigandet said. “She’s really dedicated to the program and to her runners. I liked how she had a vision for me and the team. I could tell she really believed in her vision. I trusted her. I also really liked the girls on the team. They were all really nice and I can see myself hanging out with them. I think I will enjoy myself.”
Iowa State is getting the top girls cross country runner in the state of Ohio. Last fall, she won the Division I state cross country championship. She also was a third-team All-American at the Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon. She was a three-time state placer and a four-time state qualifier. She recently was named the Gatorade Ohio Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
“Iowa State is getting a no-nonsense individual that will be committed to the program,” Troy girls cross country coach Kevin Alexander said. “Some athletes go off to college and lose direction, getting caught up in periphery activities. Seeing Morgan on a near-daily basis for the past four years, I would be shocked if Morgan doesn’t become even more focused as a distance runner with increased running, along with nutritional and supplemental training opportunities.
“While she has a good idea of what works for her training-wise, she is willing to experiment to improve even more. She will be surrounded with other high-performing training partners who will push her to excel on a daily basis.”
In track and field, she holds every school distance record. She is a three-time state placer and will have a chance at becoming a four-time state placer — and, quite possibly, the first two-time state champion in any sport in school history — this spring. She also holds Greater Western Ohio Conference, district and regional titles too numerous to mention in both sports.
“Iowa State is getting a one-of-a-kind athlete,” Troy girls track and field coach Kurt Snyder said. “They are one of the top programs in the country and are getting a great addition to their team. I am looking forward to seeing what Morgan can accomplish while having other runners of her ability pushing her every day. It was been a pleasure to coach her since seventh grade and witnessing where her hard work has taken her.”
Not bad for someone who didn’t become a dedicated runner until she got into junior high and high school.
“I used to be a softball player,” she said. “I loved softball. But when I would hit a home run, I would run so fast that sometimes I would catch the runner on third base and have to wait for her. I guess I kind of always knew I was going to be a runner. But it wasn’t until my sophomore year when I made a big jump and began to think I could actually get a Division I offer.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong