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For junior sprinter Jessica Hennig, success at Binghamton has come early and often both on and off the track
January 29, 2012Tweet
Looking at Jessica Hennig’s career at Binghamton, it is hard to believe she is only entering her junior year. She has already won a pair of America East individual track titles in the women’s 400 and has been named all-conference four times. She is a member of the National College Athlete Honors Society and has also been selected to the America East All-Academic Team.
Such a lengthy resume would indicate that Hennig has already graduated and is starting to put her degree in graphic design to use in the job market. The truth is, however, Hennig has needed only half a stay at Binghamton to accomplish all that she has.
Tracing back to Hennig’s childhood, it is easy to see why she has excelled in college so quickly.
Hennig’s love for running extends back as far as she can remember. Her mother encouraged her to pursue her passion at an early age.
“I have always loved to run,” Hennig said. “As a little kid, my favorite game was tag. Because I loved to run so much, my mom started entering me in 5k road races when I was 8 years old. I enjoyed it immensely. I got my first real taste of track when I joined the track and field team in 7th grade and haven’t stopped since.”
In high school, Hennig starred at Pine Bush High School. She was an eight-time state qualifier, a six-time Section XI champion and a seven-time county champion. Hennig capped her career with a fifth-place finish in the 400 at the 2009 New York State Outdoor Track Championships.
During the fall season, Hennig played field hockey at Pine Bush. It is a sport which requires a great amount of mental and physical toughness. Although she would not compete in the sport past high school, field hockey helped Hennig as a athlete in several ways.
“Field hockey did help me be mentally and physically tough,” she said. “Most importantly it helped teach me how people can succeed as a team. Field hockey taught me how to work together with others and how important team unity can be in sports.”
Off the track, Hennig was excelling just as much at Pine Bush. She was a member of the National Honors Society and thrived in balancing academics and athletics. Hennig credits her parents, Russell and Ann Hennig, with instilling in her the drive and work ethic to succeed.
“My parents are definitely my biggest role models,” she said. “My mom and dad have taught me what it means to work hard, never quit, and to do what I love. They have always pushed me to do my absolute best. They have guided me to always do right by others. They are sometimes my critics, but will always be my biggest fans.”
As her high school career progressed, Hennig began to seriously consider running track through college. Although she always assumed that would happen, things really began to fall into place her final two years at Pine Bush.
“I had always assumed I would run track through college, but I truly began to think about it during my junior year of high school when I started receiving recruitment letters,” she said. “I knew then that track would be a significant part of my college career.”
One college coach who especially started to take notice of Hennig was Binghamton’s Mike Thompson. He saw in her a runner who had not only excelled in high school but had the potential to do even greater things at the next level.
“Jessica ran well throughout her high school career, so we knew she was a good when we started talking to her during her senior year,” Thompson said. “Her best times were in the 400 but she also ran distances as long as the 1,000, which was unusual. We knew she was fast and we had a feeling that she would improve once she had a chance to focus on the shorter distances.”
During the recruiting process, Hennig visited several colleges but it was the people she met at Binghamton that won her over.
“I met a lot of different people along my visits to various universities, but it was the people I met here at Binghamton that really made an impression,” she said. “The coaches, the athletes, and anyone I came in contact with made me feel at home. That kind of comfort is what made me decide to commit to Binghamton.”
For many freshmen athletes, the start of college can be a daunting experience. Regardless of how much success they had in sports or in the classroom, the task of starting over at a higher level is a challenge. Hennig, however, relished the challenge when she arrived on campus.
“I was nervous, but also very excited to begin a life at BU,” she said. “ I looked forward to working hard in my academics and athletics at the collegiate level.”
It didn’t take long for Hennig’s new teammates to see her potential. During the first month of her freshman year, she made an immediate impression.
“We had time trials our first month of her freshman year,” senior Kaitlin Sullivan said. “Jessica was paired in the fastest group with some seniors who had won conference titles. She beat all of them and right then, we knew that she was going to be a great runner.”
At Binghamton, Hennig has been able to put another one of her passions to good use. Having loved to draw since she was a kid, she gravitated towards majoring in graphic design.
“I have loved art longer than I have loved running actually,” she said. “ I have always loved drawing and creating art in and outside of school. And I can’t choose one favorite thing to draw or design; I have too many favorites.”
Using the time management skills and work ethic her parents instilled in her, Hennig’s adjustment to Binghamton could not have gone smoother. She made the Dean’s List her first semester and headed into the 2010 America East Indoor Championships with a chance to score significant points in the 400.
But not even Hennig could have imagined how things would unfold in her first college conference meet. In the preliminaries of the women’s 400, she recorded the fastest time. In the finals, she won in a photo finish.
“Going into the (400 finals), I was the most nervous I have ever been before a race,” she said. “When the race was over, I didn’t know myself if I had won or not. I was just as surprised and excited as everyone else. I was so happy when my name and my time came up on the board. But the best was hearing my team mates cheer for me in excitement and happiness when they saw it too.”
One year later, Hennig repeated as the 400 champion at the America East Indoor Meet. This time, she recorded a full-second win over the rest of the field. In the process, she became the first Binghamton female ever to win back-to-back individual titles at an America East Meet.
“I felt I had a lot to live up to because I had won last year,” she said. “But I also knew I had a lot more training and experience and I had to focus on winning again. It was extremely special to me to win two in a row.”
Three months after her repeat victory, Hennig achieved her most significant academic honor. She was inducted into the National College Athlete Honors Society in just her sophomore year.
“It was a great honor to be inducted into the National College Athlete Honor Society,” she said. “I am proud to be member of the NCAHS, as well as a representative of collegiate scholar athletes.”
Beyond Hennig’s accomplishments is a person respected by both her teammates and coaches.
“I had heard a lot about Jessica before I even set foot on campus as a freshman,” sophomore Kathleen Klein said. “I had seen her success from the previous year and was eager to see what I could learn from her. She took me under her wing and really helped me as I began my journey as a collegiate athlete. She pushes me during workouts and helps me to become a better runner. She is a person who is great to train with and who is an even better friend.”
“She is a very caring person,” Sullivan said. “Whenever I am nervous before a big race, she is the one to come up and encourage me. She has been a close friend of mine since she came (to Binghamton).”
“Her level-headedness, even-keeled personality, work ethic and competitive spirit separate her from others with equal ability,” Thompson said. “She makes no excuses and is at her best in the most stressful situations.”
Hennig, meanwhile, is just as complimentary of Thompson and his staff.
“The competitive attitude and the positive atmosphere that the coaches at Binghamton have provided have helped me reach my potential and push myself to new heights,” she said. “Their training has helped mold me physically and mentally into the runner I have always wanted to become at the college level.
After graduation, Hennig intends to put her major to use by pursuing a career in an advertising field. She wants to design unique logos and ads. Still, her career at Binghamton is barely halfway over, and she has lofty goals heading into her junior track season.
“This season I hope to run a consistent 54 second time in the 400m dash,” she said. “I also want to qualify for the (NCAA East) Regional Outdoor Meet and maybe even Nationals.”
Thompson, for one, has little doubt that Hennig will continue to improve.
“Some runners get complacent if they achieve a lot of success so quickly but I don’t see that happening with Jessica,” he said. “She is a winner. She is driven to win and is not apologetic about it. She is not intimidated by big meets and runs well every time and that is why she is a two-time conference champion.”