Team the Top Priority for Tessa Turcotte

Nov. 3, 2011

When KU cross country Assistant Coach Michael Whittlesey saw Tessa Turcotte run for the first time at the start of her freshmen year in 2009, one thought went through his mind: “We have a lot of work to do.”

110311aaa_536_5769706.jpegTurcotte may not have been the most talented freshman on Whittlesey’s squad that year, but he saw a drive and dedication in her that showed potential, especially as the season progressed.

“Right off the bat she was not one of our best runners,” explained Whittlesey. “But by the end of her freshman year, she had put herself into that front seven and really proved that she belonged there.”

The dedication and passion Turcotte showed that first year was only a small preview of what her coaches and teammates would witness in her following seasons. In 2010 and thus far in 2011 she was been one of KU’s top-five finishers in each meet she competed in, staking her place as an integral member of the women’s squad, a position that she relishes and can be proud of.

“I’ve really worked to prove to coach Whitt and proving to myself that I belonged here and that I could keep improving,” said Turcotte. “I knew I wanted to be a part of that top group so I just kept fighting for it and now I’ve gotten to where I’m at.”

110311aaa_536_5763294.jpegA native of Albuquerque, N.M., Turcotte has been competing in meets since she was a second grader. Her father, Jeff, a seven-time letterman in track and cross country at New Mexico, was a coach and organized the elementary meets at the time. It would prove that having a relative in high-places paid off for Turcotte. Even though she was not yet old enough to compete in the elementary meets, her father pulled some strings, giving his daughter some extra experience and a leg up on any future competition. It worked.

When all was said and done with her high school career, she was a district champion, a member of the all-state cross country first-team and the 2008 recipient of the New Mexico Athletic Association Sportsmanship Award. All accolades earned under the guidance of her high school coach, her Dad.

“My Dad definitely has had a huge influence on my running career,” said Turcotte. “He got me started and really shaped me into the runner I am today.”

With her high school days behind her, Turcotte decided to make the nearly 800-mile trip to Mount Oread to run at KU. She had originally been coaxed to Lawrence by former KU distance coach, Doug Clark, a long-time family friend. However, when Clark left just before her freshman season began, Turcotte would be forced to not only adjust to a new state, a new school and new friends, but to a new coach as well, current distance coach Michael Whittlesey.

Most would think so many changes would be too much for an 18-year-old to handle all at once, and while Turcotte admits she had to fight through some bouts of home-sickness, the KU family made her feel right at home.

“I knew since I was going far away I had to find a close team and KU fit that perfectly,” recalled Turcotte. “It also helped that there was really no tension at all (between me and Coach Whittlesey). He’s such a lovable guy and once I met him I liked him right away.”

The instant chemistry with her coaches and teammates quickly paid off on the cross country trails for Turcotte. By the end of her freshman year, she was a member of the travel squad that placed fifth at the conference meet and 10th at the NCAA Regionals, Turcotte among KU’s top six finishers in both.

“When it’s a team scoring situation, Tessa is at her best,” said Whittlesey. “I really think it’s all about the success of the team for her. She truly values the success of the program over her own achievements. That is what has really made her an asset to this team.”

110311aaa_536_5769708.jpegTurcotte’s attitude hasn’t wavered during her three years with the Jayhawks and it will suit her better than ever next season as she becomes a leader of the 2012 squad. With the departure of current senior veterans, Rebeka Stowe, Kara Windisch and Cori Christensen it will be up to her and her classmates to take over the leadership duties next season. It is undertaking Turcotte looks forward to and feels she is well suited for it.

“I think as long we keep the team united, I will have done my job,” said Turcotte. “I’m really all about the team and I hope just to keep us all together and have positive attitudes.”

For now, Turcotte is focused on ending this season on a high note. With the all-important NCAA Regionals just over a week away, she knows she will need to give it everything she has if the team is to move on, but more importantly, push her teammates to do the same.

“The big goal for us is to just stick to the game plan,” explained Turcotte. “I think we’ve learned from our ups and downs and have run well together these past few weeks. This year has been about putting everything we’ve learned together and knowing we can count on each other.”

While she has improved tremendously from the first practice of her freshman year to today, Coach Whittlesey believes the best is yet to come from the junior.

“Tessa has done a great job of buying into herself and doing what is necessary to be successful at this level,” concluded Whittlesey. “Her main goal is to see the team succeed and runners like that are always able to step up at the right times. I expect to see some great things from her moving forward.”