Alexandria’s Jamie Piepenburg has two 3,200-meter state titles and a 1,600-meter championship already to her name.
Now she wants both of those titles in the same season. That has been the driving force behind another record-setting spring for Piepenburg.
She didn’t have much left to prove coming into the season. Piepenburg already had the records and the state titles that will put her down as the best distance runner in Alexandria history and one of the best the state has seen in the 3,200. Her accomplishments also earned her the opportunity to run both track and cross country at the University of Minnesota this fall, but for Piepenburg, there is always plenty left to accomplish.
“There’s always room to improve,” she said after the Alexandria home triangular on Tuesday. “Training hard and always working, doing all the little things to get better so that I can make those improvements now this year and in my future at the U.”
That attitude has helped her put together an incredible senior season, highlighted by one of the best races in state history in the 3,200 at the Hamline Elite Meet on April 27. Piepenburg had already set the meet record with a time of 10:45.84 as a junior.
This year, she entered the race being pushed by a loaded field that included Shakopee’s Maria Hauger and Blake’s Clare Flanagan. That group made the 3,200 the feature race of the meet with all eyes on a talented group of athletes. Piepenburg proved to be a step ahead of them all as she demolished the record she set last year with a time of 10:28.46. It was the fifth fastest time ever posted in the Minnesota girls’ 3,200-meter race.
“It was such a fun race and just so awesome to go out there with such a fast field of girls,” Piepenburg said. “The overall quality of the race was so great, just awesome to come out on top of that, set the record way down and run the fifth fastest time in Minnesota history. Basically have a breakthrough race that I’ve been waiting for in that race and finally I got my chance.”
It wouldn’t have happened without her ability to recognize areas where she needed to improve. Piepenburg worked hard on her kick in the past year so she could put runners away down the stretch in big meets. That paid off for her at Hamline as she made her move with 300 meters left to leave Flanagan and Hauger in second and third place, respectively.
“She ran so smart and made the move at the right time,” head coach Mike Empting said. “Just put the field away. I think her overall speed to end a race has come such a long ways over the past few years. She’s always been just that aerobic monster, being able to run the 1,600 and the 3,200 and the 5K, that’s always been there, but she recognized that she’s got to have more of a kick and she worked on that.”
It’s that awareness and her drive to never settle that continues to impress her head coach.
“I think she already has,” Empting said of her far exceeding his expectations. “Talking to Mark Nelsen, our distance coach. Coming into this season, he’s discussed with me what he thought she could possibly do and she’s already gone beyond that, with the two-mile especially…it’s hard to describe. She’s a once in a lifetime kind of athlete I think.”
With the conference and section meets right around the corner, Piepenburg has shifted her focus squarely on her ultimate goal coming into the season – that’s winning both the 1,600 and 3,200-meter races at state. Barring an injury, she should have no problem qualifying for both events at the section meet.
She’ll likely face another loaded field when she gets down to Hamline University for the state meet on June 8-9. Taylor Scholl of Prior Lake has the fastest time in the 1,600 this season and won the Elite Meet in a time of 4:59.83. Hauger could be standing in her way in both events as well. Those kind of athletes will make the 1,600 and the 3,200 two of the most highly-anticipated races of the meet.
“Girls like Jamie, Maria, Taylor – they elevate the sport across the state,” Empting said. “If you want to compete, this is where you’re going to have to be.”
Hauger and Piepenburg have long been rivals on the Minnesota track and cross country scene. The Shakopee junior kept Piepenburg from ending her cross country career with a state championship after Hauger edged her by less than a second this past fall. The two have finished right behind each other in first and second place in the 3,200 the past three seasons at state track.
“It’s kind of a rivalry that definitely pushes us both to be our best,” Piepenburg said. “I know that if one of us is to slack off today, the other one’s not. So there’s no reason to slack off. You have to work hard every day knowing that she’s out there pushing herself every day to get better and beat me at the next race.”
It’s a big race every time these two go head-to-head, and none of their previous match-ups will be bigger than the likely match-up in early June. It will be the last time these two see each other at the high school level.
Winning both distance races in the same year has eluded Piepenburg the past three seasons. That’s why winning both titles this season would be so special. Doing it against a runner she has respected for years in Hauger? That would be icing on the cake.
“That would be just an awesome way to end my senior year,” Piepenburg said. “Being able to have this rivalry where both of us had our chances and finally my last year get to go out with a bang. Beat her at Hamline, beat her at both state tracks – that would just be an awesome way to end it.”