24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Tess Wilberding

Sept. 15, 2015

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, July 29, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2015-16 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Tess Wilberding feels like a different runner and it has nothing to do with a healed stress fracture in her right shin.

The difference is confidence and experience.

Already one of the best practice performers in the University of Iowa women’s cross country program, Wilberding looks to transfer those outstanding workout efforts to cross country courses.



“I have been here and know how to do it, compared to freshman year when it is foreign,” said Wilberding, a junior from Troy, Michigan. “I practice more often than I race and the practices have been successful. I hope to think about the practices and go into (meets) with the confidence my coach has given me.”

Now in her third season of collegiate cross country, Wilberding reflects on workouts that she labored through when she arrived on campus in 2013. After a hard practice now, she thinks back to those first-year struggles.

“I remember doing an easier version my freshman year and not finishing,” she said “Now I feel I can do two of them and I want to go harder.”

Wilberding was 94th at last season’s Big Ten Conference Championship with a six kilometer time of 22 minutes, 28 seconds. Her goal is to “move up a ton” in the Big Ten rankings.

“For her, it’s more the mental confidence and believing the workouts are an indication.” UI head coach Layne Anderson said. “You need the confidence on race day to put yourself out there to run fast and compete at a high level.”

Wilberding is certain this is the year. She opened the season by placing 15th at Hawkeye Early Bird Invitational on Sept. 4 in Iowa City. Wilberding’s three kilometer time of 10:45.4 was third among UI women. She followed that with a 14th-place showing at the Illinois State Invitational on Sept. 11 with a 5K time of 18:17.5.

Competing in pressure meets is nothing new for Wilberding. In 2012, her high school, Birmingham Seaholm, won the Division 1 state championship in Michigan and she was 12th individually. The Maples were named mythical national champions.

“I’m thinking about the end of the season. I want to be in the 20-minute range because I think that would help a lot. My ranking and how I have performed in meets so far doesn’t indicate my ability. I want to show my ability in races like I do in practice.”
Tess Wilberding
UI junior runner


“Tess came from a competitive, state championship program,” Anderson said. “She had a big upside like some of the girls who have success here — McKenzie Melander, Brooke Eilers, Betsy Flood — that type where you can develop them over time and they can become versatile in helping you in cross country and on the track and having good range.”

Add Wilberding’s work ethic. Anderson says her results in practice compare favorably in time and type to ones completed by All-American and Big Ten champion Diane Nukuri, as well as other elite performers in program history like Racheal Marchand and Meghan Armstrong.

To Wilberding, that is good news and bad.

“It’s good because I know I have the ability and bad because I would like for it to show more in races,” Wilberding said. “I have gained a lot more confidence and calmness into my racing and I think that will help me a lot.”

Back home, there was never a shortage of training partners for Wilberding. Sisters Tess, Aubrey, and Mallory are triplets — Aubrey and Mallory are identical, Tess is fraternal. All three went to different Big Ten Conference institutions: Aubrey runs at Michigan State and Mallory is considering a return to the sport at Ohio State.

“We were excited about being on our own and we knew we wanted to go to different colleges,” Wilberding said. “To this day we agree it was good. It is easy to stay with each other. It was hard for me at first: I would see twins together and think it would be fun if my sisters were here.”

Summer was more than a training period for Wilberding. A marketing major with a minor in nutrition, she spent the most recent offseason as an intern for Fox Sports Detroit, importing sales data from account executives into an Excel spreadsheet.

“It would be fun to market for a sports nutrition company,” Wilberding said.

The outgoing Wilberding found the friendliness of folk at the University of Iowa to her liking.

“People in Iowa are so nice,” she said. “I will visit my sisters and think it is a lot of fun, but I’m ready to go back to Iowa. When I was on my recruiting trip, I was shocked by how nice the people were and I thought it was just for a recruiting trip. When I came here I was like `Wow, people are this nice all the time.'”

While Wilberding kicked the season off on her home course, she has her focus on the November portion of the schedule. The Hawkeyes compete at the Big Ten Conference Championships on Nov. 1 in Evanston, Illinois, and Midwest Regional on Nov. 13 in Lawrence, Kansas.

“I’m thinking about the end of the season,” Wilberding said. “I want to be in the 20-minute range because I think that would help a lot. My ranking and how I have performed in meets so far doesn’t indicate my ability. I want to show my ability in races like I do in practice.”