Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Jenny Wagstaff
It wasn’t quite love at first site, but nearly 30 years ago Jenny Wagstaff and Mike Arbanas crossed paths one evening at The Wheel in Lawrence and made a connection that would forever change their lives. Wagstaff, a Kansas swimmer, and Arbanas, a linebacker on the football team, were around each other frequently as Jayhawk student-athletes, but that meeting sparked something extra and the couple dated all the way through their final year at Kansas.
“We shared the same weight room and other facilities,” Wagstaff said. “A lot of the athletes knew each other and would often hang out together on the weekends. After we had ‘officially’ met, we really hit it off.”
Arbanas decided to take the next step when he proposed to Wagstaff on the couple’s first ski trip.
“I was in my fifth year so I wasn’t swimming anymore, but I was still in school,” Wagstaff said. “Neither of us had been able to go skiing before due to participating in athletics and fear of getting injured. It wasn’t anything too romantic, but it’s still a special moment.”
Both Arbanas and Wagstaff were captains of their respective teams and enjoyed attending the other’s athletic events when they could, further cementing their bond as Jayhawks and as a couple.
“I traveled to Ft. Worth when KU played TCU and I tried to make it to Mike’s games whenever I could,” Wagstaff said.
Long before meeting the man she would spend the rest of her life with, Wagstaff started swimming when she was about seven. She took after her older siblings who were involved in a team sponsored by their country club.
“As the youngest, I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to join,” Wagstaff said. “There was a local swim club team that I joined when I was about eight or nine and began swimming year round. I enjoyed it. All of my friends swam as well and it was an easy sport to get into.”
Wagstaff would prove to be a strong enough swimmer to put on a Jayhawk cap as she became the third athlete in her family to be involved in Kansas athletics. Her father, Richard Wagstaff, Jr., ran track for KU and her grandfather, William Campbell, was on the baseball team in the 1920s.
“My grandparents lived right off campus, so I was in Lawrence a lot when I was younger,” Wagstaff said. “When it was time to pick a college, I knew KU had a good swim team and I felt it was the best place for me to go in order to pursue a college education. I also wanted to carry on the tradition of being a student-athlete at KU.”
During her time as a Jayhawk, Wagstaff helped bring four Big Eight Championship titles to Lawrence and her performances also led the team to the best finish in the NCAA National Championships in school history at seventh place.
“Before college, my club teams were always fairly small,” Wagstaff said. “In college it was nice to be a part of something bigger. I liked being on a team where everyone was about the same age and the atmosphere was great. I enjoyed being on a successful team and it was great to make our mark and leave a legacy for Kansas swimming.”
The former Jayhawk swimmer still gets together with some of her old teammates to reminisce about their time at Kansas.
“There was a bunch of girls that got along really well when I was on the team,” Wagstaff said. “We pushed each other in practices and we still get together now even after 30 years and have a great time together. The team was like one big family.”
One thing Wagstaff learned from her time at KU was that listening to her coach wasn’t always easy, especially when there is fresh snow on Mt. Oread. Wagstaff and four of her friends decided to go sledding down the hill behind Memorial Stadium in between practices one day. According to Wagstaff, they were all surprised to see a picture of them racing down the hill on the front page of the Lawrence Journal World the next day.
“We always had to spend the majority winter break in Lawrence training,” Wagstaff said. “It was swim, eat, rest and swim again for days on end. We got some nice snow one night and the next day Coach (Kempf) warned us not to go out and do anything stupid because the heart of the season was coming up and he didn’t want any unnecessary injuries.”
According to Wagstaff, the best part about her career was breaking an all-time Kansas record. She still holds the third-fastest time in school history in the 200-yard butterfly (1:59.78). Wagstaff held the second-fastest mark until recently when current KU sophomore Chelsie Miller broke the all-time record when she swam a time of 1:58.58 at the 2013 AT&T Winter Nationals in Knoxville, Tenn.
Today, nearly three decades after the two Jaykawk student-athletes fell in love, Wagstaff and Arbanas have three sons. The oldest, Jake, went to West Point and is currently stationed at Ft. Riley. He is scheduled to go to Kuwait next summer. Frank, the middle son is a Sigma Chi at KU. Luke is the youngest and a senior who plays football for Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo. Wagstaff, her husband and the three sons make time to support their Jayhawk roots.
“We have season tickets to the football games and we try to go to a couple to basketball games each year as well,” Wagstaff said. “We’ll be empty nesters next year, so I plan on coming to more swimming meets to support the program.”
Still active in swimming herself, Wagstaff hits the pool for exercise when she can, but mostly occupies her time with raising her family.
“I’ve been a stay-at-home mom since my youngest son was born, but with everyone out of the house next year that could change,” Wagstaff said. “I don’t have anything lined up but I’m hoping to find something to keep me busy.”
Recalling her time as a Jayhawk, Wagstaff offered some valuable advice to the current student-athletes at KU.
“The more dedicated you are, the more successful you will be,” Wagstaff said. “But it’s important to have some fun along the way. In general, enjoy the ride because it goes by quickly.”
Wagstaff comes from a rich Jayhawk history and carries on the tradition with her own family. Marrying a fellow Jayhawk, sending a son to school on Mt. Oread and cheering on the athletic teams today are just a few ways she keeps Lawrence and her time as a swimmer close to her heart.
Once a Jayhawk, always a Jayhawk.