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Anna Van Wyk, rising senior at Eagan High School, was a top finisher in last year's state cross country tournament. ] MONICA HERNDON monica.herndon@startribune.com Eagan, MN 08/12/14

 

One look at Eagan senior cross-country captain Anna Van Wyk, with her light blonde hair and big smile reaching up to crinkle her eyes, it’s not hard to come up with one word to describe her: sunny.

That sunshiny demeanor is something she shares with her high school teammates, though they don’t look on the bright side quite the same way.

“It was last year, I believe it was at our Griak meet, and everyone was real nervous about running,” fellow senior captain Kelli Praska said. “And she was like, ‘You know what guys? At least we have legs because some people don’t have legs.’ ”

“We were all like, ‘Where did that come up from?’ Because it was just such a random thought.”

Coach Lisa Langenhahn said Van Wyk has been a huge part of her team for several years, including helping the Wildcats to a second-place finish at the Class 2A state meet in 2012. Van Wyk finished in fourth place last year.

“Anna always has some random comments,” Langenhahn said. “She’s very lighthearted. … That’s kind of Anna, and that’s what we love about her.”

Van Wyk said her positive outlook in the mentally tough sport of distance running stemmed from a young age. When running for the Eagan Athletic Association several years ago, she had a coach tell her, “If you’re feeling bad in a race, just look outside and say, ‘It’s a beautiful day.’ ”

But Van Wyk doesn’t rely solely on positivity to achieve fast times. This summer, in addition to attending running camp with her team and running for both distance and time, she concentrated on strength training to develop better muscle and stability.

As far as goals for this season, Van Wyk said she mostly wants to set a good example for the team’s younger members, as two will need to fill in the rest of the varsity lineup.

The senior hopes to set personal records but was reluctant to make further predictions about her performance.

“It would be really great if I could maybe get top three in state,” she said. “I’m definitely trying to work as hard as I can.”

The Wildcats’ theme for the 2014 season is “better our best,” both as a person and athlete. Langenhahn said that’s all Van Wyk should work for but couldn’t deny her star had extra pressure.

“We have goals, and of course, those expectations are there then, too,” Langenhahn said. “We talk about them, but we don’t necessarily talk them into the ground either.”

In addition to her last cross-country season and the finality of senior year, she has to figure out where she is going to college in a year’s time.

Van Wyk has sent applications to her dad’s alma mater of Liberty as well as Missouri. She said she’s still deciding on a major, perhaps hospitality or fitness and nutrition, but knows for sure she wants to run collegiately.

“I got a couple e-mails from coaches saying interest,” she said. “I know I don’t want to go to school in Minnesota, so I kind of politely declined them. … I want to go farther away because it’s one of my one chances to kind of travel.”

But even with the added stress, Praska said she knows Van Wyk still will be the team motivator.

“She’s actually kind of our positive spirit on the team, for sure,” Praska said. “She always has positive thoughts, and if we’re ever like, ‘Oh, I’m really nervous about the race,’ or ‘I don’t want to run,’ she’s just like, ‘You know what? We’re just going to go out there and do our best, and that’s all we can do.’ ”

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