After being one of the top-rated athletes to sign with Nevada in any sport, Tierney Wolfgram came to Reno amid massive expectations.
It didn't take long for her to fulfill them. After arriving on campus last fall, the Minnesota native set the U.S. junior marathon record as the Wolf Pack cross country season was all but canceled due to the pandemic. And in her first official race as part of the Nevada cross country team earlier this season, she won the USF Individual at Golden Gate Park by a whooping 29 seconds, earning national U.S. track and field/cross country athlete of the week honors.
"I was not anticipating winning by that much," Wolfgram said during a recent appearance on NSN Daily. "I didn't even know if I could win going into that race because it was my first college race, at least for cross country. And so I had no idea going into it. It kind of happened after the first lap. It was a three-lap course, and after the first lap I looked at Coach (Kirk) Elias on the course and he was, like, 'You can go.' I was, like, 'OK, let's see what I can do,' and that was the outcome."
A high school All-American who was the youngest female marathon runner at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, Wolfgram bypassed her senior season of high school to join Nevada a year early. That was before the pandemic struck the globe and impacted the 2020-21 season. She did not compete in cross country last season before making her Wolf Pack debut in a couple of track and field events later in the year. Her first event with Nevada cross country at the USF Individual was the culmination of a lot of work.
"I guess a whole summer's worth of work," Wolfgram said. "A lot of time and effort. We would have practices. It wouldn't be mandatory practices. Nothing was set up, but I'd run with the team pretty much every single day. We were all training toward the first meet and throughout the whole season. But the first meet is the first one, so it's exciting and everyone looks forward to it. So that was what we were working toward all season."
Wolfgram finished 12th at the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational in the team's second meet, which was held in her home state of Minnesota, running the 6K at 21 minutes, 13 seconds (she ran the USF Invitational at 20:26). Wolfgram said she's enjoyed her experience at Nevada thus far, largely because of her teammates.
"I think last year bonded us a lot because we were all going through a lot of struggles," Wolfgram said. "We were restricted to not go out as much, and so we only really had each other at practice. But now coming back to where the world is kind of opened up again and we get to experience how life used to be, at least in some way, it's been really cool because we do have that bond from last year and we can grow that now. I think we're all super excited for the season. It's really nice to have meets to look forward to where last year was just training on top of training on top of training, not knowing when we were going to race."
One of the reasons Wolfgram finished high school after her junior season to go to college was to be tested against higher-level competition. She's found that at Nevada, not only from her fellow female runners but also the Wolf Pack men's cross country team, which helped pace her during her record-setting marathon run.
"They're all great, and it's really nice to see a team come together," Wolfgram said. "Last year it was hard with COVID, but this year we're doing amazing. We all know each other, and it's just really nice to have a close team. I've never had that before."
Wolfgram said her goal before the end of the season is to get under the 20-minute mark in the 6K. She'd also like to reach a national-level meet and said her early-season success this year has bolstered her confidence.
"On race day, you do get more confidence, but even in practices, I chase after the guys in workouts," Wolfgram said. "And if I can catch a guy, it's, like, 'Oh my gosh, I've got it. I can catch a girl. I can catch another national-class athlete.' That's really cool to overcome certain obstacles that I have in practice that builds confidence and even the small things in the weight room. I'm just not comfortable in the weight room because I've never lifted before coming here. So learning that stuff and making myself better in that way, which I hadn't in years past, I know I'm doing the small stuff to get better., which builds my confidence."
After moving from Minnesota to Nevada to live on her own last year, the rest of her family relocated to Northern Nevada over the summer, which has made Reno feel more like home.
"I have really learned how important family is," Wolfgram said. "My family is honestly like everything to me. And last year was such a struggle because they were so far away, and they never liked Minnesota's weather. They love Minnesota. So they actually this summer moved out here to be closer to me and also find a place that they're happy with. And they found that here. And it's amazing because now I'm so much happier just having them so close. I can call on them any time and actually see them instead of just call on the phone."
Along her were parents came her dog.
"He's a goofball," Wolfgram said. "We initially got him so he could be my running partner. He does not do that. He walks a lot, and he's fine with that. But the second you try to make him run, he is behind you, like trying to slow you down, just make you walk the whole time. So he's not really someone I can rely on to get a good run in with. But he's amazing. My dad works from home remotely, so he keeps my dad company every single day and my dad loves him to death, and all of us do. So it's been really nice having a dog. I never realized how special they are in a family, and I couldn't live without him."
You can watch Tierney Wolfgram's full NSN Daily interview below.