For the last four years, senior Polly Gnepa has been hurdling himself into UC Davis track history.
The Turlock, Calif. native won the 110-meter high hurdles with a career-best 13.79 at the Big West Conference Championships and holds the second-fastest time in school history for the event.
Before the NCAA West Preliminary Championships, Gnepa took some time to talk with Aggie Sports Writer Matt Wang about his four years as an Aggie, the recent successes of the track program, and his leadership as a senior.
Why do you love hurdling and running?
I love to sprint. Hurdling is one of those things that either you like or you don’t. It’s not for everyone. If you like to sprint and love the challenge, hurdling is definitely for you.
Where did you get your start running track?
It was in junior high P.E. where we did some track. We did hurdling, and I thought that it was kind of fun. In junior high, I was an okay hurdler, so when I got to high school, I tried out for hurdling and took it from there.
Could you describe the season for yourself so far? You’ve been here a couple of years, what do you see in this one that makes it stand out?
I think it’s gone really well in comparison with two seasons ago, where I didn’t start running well until the end of the season. From early on this year I started hitting the times I wanted to hit. For the team, we are trying to get new guys in the relays. We have two freshmen that we’re trying to get in the mix and trying to get prepared. Hopefully, they’ll carry the torch for the years to come. Otherwise, I’m really happy. At the Big West Conference, I hit 13 seconds in my event.
As a senior, how do the previous years rank up to this one?
As a freshman, I was just starting out – but these last two years, I’ve been getting the times. I’ve been getting my form down, and my speed up. [This year] has been going great. I can’t wait for the [NCAA preliminary championships], to run and drop my time down even more at nationals.
Everybody expects you to run faster each year, and that’s not necessarily the case. What are you doing to improve every year?
I’ve had my share of bad races where I don’t see any improvement. I have to keep telling myself it will work. I have to keep on pushing, doing drills, and I know it will click. One of these races, it will click. Last year, it clicked. I now have something to look back to and know if I stay with my program, the times will drop and that matters.
Coach Jon and Deanne Vochatzer [cq] have been instrumental to your improvement over the years. What do you think of coaches Dee and Jon Vochatzer retiring?
I remember when they told us at picture day. They got us all together and made the announcement. I was thinking, “What? Did they say what I think they said?” I remember coming in as a freshman wanting to go to Davis. As I looked through the different coaches at different schools, I saw what [the Vochatzers] did and was blown away. This was definitely a place where I can grow as an athlete. They’ve helped me throughout my career. [Laughs]. When you think of track and field, you have to think of Coach Dee and V. It’s sad to see them go.
How have the Vochatzers prepared you for NCAAs, Big West Conference Championships and life?
The coaches have definitely changed me a lot. Coming in as a senior in high school I had this attitude of, “They may change me a little bit, but they’re not going to change me a lot. There’s not much that they can do.” I’ve definitely changed a lot and it’s been tremendous. To get me to the top of the meets – I’m definitely thankful for that.
You’re traveling this year to Texas with 15 other teammates for the NCAA Preliminary Championships. It’s pretty much your entire squad that went to conference. Does going with people you know give you an edge because you can feed off of each other’s energy?
Definitely. Anytime you can have people you know it gives you an extra boost. We may not see them, but it’s definitely a plus. At regional’s last year, some people had huge teams. The bigger teams brought more people, and it felt like a conference meet because they were all cheering.
Do you have anything to say for the students who know nothing about track? What do you want all the students to know?
Either if you’re a big diehard track fan or not, our track program is something you should watch out for. We’ve been getting a lot better. We’ve been up there at the big meets, and we’re up there with the different coaches in the region. We are definitely not there yet, but we’re getting more people and expanding. We are going to get back to the point where our dreams are for the top spot at the Big West Conference Championships. Just head out some Saturday and cheer. There are great athletes and great people from a lot of different schools. If you’re not a fan yet, you’ll become one in the days to come because we’re ready to run.
MATT WANG can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.