The Road to Nationals: Jennifer Bergman

Nov. 22, 2009


Humorous start to running career has produced big things out of UA freshman

by Jeremy Hawkes - Arizona Athletics Media Relations


Jennifer Bergman is a cross country history is one of opposite extremes.


One of the UA’s most accomplished freshmen coming into the season, the youngster kick started her career in cross country and running after trying several other sports and admittedly not being good at them.  She tried her hand at running in middle school but her finish would not give you much of a sign of the talent she exhibits today.


“I remember finishing about fourth to last and I walked over half of it,” Bergman said.


She said she was wearing Sketchers which “probably wasn’t a good idea” and that her mom showed up late to the race and asked her if she wanted her to drive her to the finish.  Bergman denied the offer and finishing the race on her own. 


Now, about seven years later, Bergman has been one of the catalysts in sending the UA cross country team back to the National Championships for the first time in eight years.


The turnaround was very quick for Bergman as far as becoming one of the elite runners in the nation.  In her freshman season at Valley Christian High School, Bergman went to the 2005 USATF Junior Olympics to compete in the 3000-meter run.  She would finish third there and a star was born.


Bergman went on to win three Central Coast Section titles in cross country and finished third at the California State Meet during her senior year.


Those performances transpired into a sixth place finish at the Foot Locker West Region Championships and her first ever qualification in the Foot Locker Nationals – essentially the granddaddy of all high school cross country meets – and a 33rd place finish.


After that performance, the recruiting phone calls started pouring in.  Universities who had previously offered half scholarships were bumping them up to full scholarships and school who had not even answered her initial contact were finally starting to get back to her.


UA assistant coach Erin Dawson was ahead of the game though, contacting Bergman immediately after her regional race to discuss her recruitment. 


Bergman eventually decided on the UA, but did have a moment of second guessing herself upon signing the papers.


“I kind of regretted it at first,” she said. “It was hot and the desert and I didn’t want to wake up at 5:30 in the morning.”


Bergman’s fears were eased once she actually arrived on campus and started spending time with her new teammates.


“I instantly loved everything,” she said. “I have only known the girls on the team a couple months now but it feels like I’ve know them longer.”


Bergman said that the bond she shares with them goes beyond the cross country courses, to the point where she and her teammates hang out quite often outside of the competitive slate.  She says that her roommate slash teammate Liz Apgar has become one of her best friends and that they do just about everything together.


The transition to being away from home has also been made a bit easier by the family presence she has found at all out her races.  She says that her parents try to make it to all of her races and even the races she raced in Indiana her grandma who lives there was able to attend.


That family presence is also important for the fact that Bergman is slightly younger than your typical freshman.  After moving at a young age and switching schools in the process, Bergman ended up a year ahead of her peers and found herself coming to the UA as a 17-year-old. 


Aside from the obvious teasing she received from teammates, she also had to go through the process of having all her paperwork sent home to be signed by her parents as she was not a legal adult able to sign for herself quite yet.


Bergman’s youth has not been evident at all for the Wildcats this season, however.  Bergman has scored points for Arizona in all but one race this season, often finishing as the team’s number two or three scorer. 


Her impact has been very important in a year where it was pivotal that the freshmen come in and be ready to compete.  And answer that call she has. 


As the Wildcats head to their first National Championship appearance in eight years, they will look to Bergman to continue to guide them along their already impressive path and continue to lead the team far into her career as a Wildcat.


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