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Eric Peterson, Published May 09 2012

Dragons senior wins with plenty of flair

Moorhead - A fierce competitor on the track juxtaposed with a sweet personality off it, Anna VanWechel finds a way to add a dash of flair when she prepares for races.

The Minnesota State Moorhead senior likes to spice things up with her fingernails, specifically wearing different bold colors for meets.

“If I have a bad race with a certain color, I have to retire that color,” VanWechel said with a chuckle. “I like bright, obnoxious colors.”

VanWechel hasn’t been forced to retire many nail colors this spring. Most changes in shade have come because she likes the variety. For the record, VanWechel has a teal hue with sparkles ready for the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference track and field outdoor championships, which run Friday and Saturday at the Community Bowl in Bismarck.

“It’s gone fast,” said VanWechel, a fifth-year senior who has also run cross country for four years. “It’s been a ton of ups and downs.”

She’s ranked first in the NSIC women’s 1,500 meters with a school-record time of 4 minutes, 22.19 seconds entering the conference meet. She also has the third-best time in the 800.

Going back to the indoor season, VanWechel’s final go-round in red and white has been her finest.

She’s clocked personal bests in all of her events. She’s set school records in four individual events: 1,500 and 3,000 outdoors and the 1,000 and mile indoors.

“It’s been fun to chase after those records the last five years and finally get some of them,” said VanWechel, who is from Fergus Falls, Minn.

Dragons distance runner Danielle Thompson calls VanWechel her best friend. The two started their MSUM careers at the same time and were roommates for part of those five years.

Teammates often refer to the two as “Danna,” a combination of Danielle and Anna.

Thompson said VanWechel doesn’t have a “mean bone in her body,” likes to volunteer and is active in the community.

A biology major, VanWechel carries a 3.79 grade-point average.

“I think of someone who is the sweetest person, but a fierce competitor,” said Thompson, who is set to compete in the 5,000 and 3,000 steeplechase this weekend. “What makes her unique is that she is so kind, and yet she has the fierce competitive drive that makes her a unique athlete.”

VanWechel is slated to start graduate school in June at St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn. She plans to study physical therapy. Her long-term goal is to work specifically with athletes.

VanWechel decided to come back for a fifth year and final track season even though she could have graduated earlier.

Part of the reason she came back is because she didn’t like the way things went last year.

“It’s actually one of the best decisions I could have made,” VanWechel said. “If I would have left on a year having not done that well, I think I would have always wondered what I could have done. … I’m happy finishing out running strong.”

VanWechel is hoping to win her first conference titles since she was a true freshman. She earned a combined six (including four individual) that year, counting cross country and the indoor and outdoor track seasons.

The NSIC had seven teams when VanWechel was in her first year at MSUM. The league grew to 11 teams the next year, upping the competition.

“You can just see the drive in her eyes,” said Thompson, from Grand Forks. “She’s always ready to race. When she steps on the track, she means business, and she is going to get the job done whether it’s a small meet or a big meet.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com