GOING THE DISTANCE
Freshman cross country runner Karis Jochen has her eye on the finish line
by Abby Drake '15
Looking at her career thus far, one can easily see that Karis Jochen is an impressive runner.
In high school she garnered two state 5A cross country titles and was named the 2012 and 2013 Gatorade Texas Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. Additionally, she placed fifth in the country in both the Nike and Foot Locker Nationals.
Even in just her second collegiate meet, Jochen (pronounced YOKE-en) displayed her fire, finishing as the top freshman among Division I schools and being named the SEC Co-Freshman of the Week.
- Karis Jochen
In fact, with her talent and desire for the sport, it is hard to imagine that she almost ignored the sport completely.
Jochen began playing soccer at the age of three and joined a Division I team in Houston in sixth grade, traveling from College Station to Houston three times a week.
“I hated running in middle school,” Jochen admitted. “Entering high school, the thing I was looking forward to the most was playing high school soccer. When I was making my schedule my freshman year, though, I learned that freshmen weren’t allowed to play soccer their fall semester because it was a spring sport. You had to make the team before being in offseason.”
With the problem arising in Jochen’s quest to become a star soccer player, her mother suggested the idea of running cross country to stay in shape until she could make the soccer team. Jochen followed her mother’s advice and found it to be quite wise.
“I didn’t know what I was doing at all my freshman year,” Jochen said. “I followed the seniors blindly, but I still was number one on the team. It was weird because I hated running. I decided I was actually decent at it so I continued running my sophomore year. During my sophomore year, I saw some success. I wasn’t on anyone’s radar but I made it to state as an individual. Even then, I wasn’t on anyone’s radar. No one was predicting success for me. No one even knew my name to predict. But I placed fifth at state.”
The next weekend, her coach convinced her to run in a race just to see how she would do. After placing second, she discovered that the first five runners received an all-expenses paid trip to Oregon to race nationally.
Jochen never looked back.
One might look at receiving honors like SEC Co-Freshman of the Week as a lot to live up to right out of the gate. But she doesn’t view it that way.
“It was a really cool feeling,” Jochen said of the honor. “I was really excited. At the same time, it made me almost hungry for more. I want to raise the bar. I want to do better. I was honored and I was excited but it made me excited for the future as well.”
Among her ambitions is the lofty goal of seeing the Texas A&M women’s cross country team advance to the national championship meet, something that hasn’t occurred in 13 years.
“I definitely want the women’s cross country team to go to nationals this year,” Jochen said. “On a personal level, I want to do well at nationals. I want to achieve an All-American status.”
With such an ambitious attitude and the talent level to match it, head coach Pat Henry is certainly glad that Jochen decided to stay in her hometown and run for the Aggies.
“Local athletes are sometimes difficult to recruit,” Henry admitted. “At times the opportunity or decision to get away from home is more important than any other factor. After my first conversation with Karis I felt she was not only going to make a great academic decision for herself, but she wanted to be in a program that would help her to best accomplish her athletic goals. Personally, I really liked her personality and her family's commitment and care for their daughter's future.
“She is striving to be very good and I believe she felt our environment, not just with distance runners but as a team, was best for her. I also believe she felt we were a program that would not only allow her to reach her personal goals but also to be on a team, a track and field team.”
- Wendel McRaven, assistant coach
Aggie assistant coach Wendel McRaven has seen the potential in her and agrees with Henry’s sentiments.
“Being the top cross country runner in the state there was no question that we were going to recruit her,” McRaven said. “In evaluating her, the thing that I always came away impressed with was her racing tenacity and toughness. Regardless of the conditions--hot and windy at the state meet, wet and muddy at the Nike Nationals in Portland or mild and hilly at the Foot Locker Nationals--she went in focused and took care of business. I could see that focused, competitive fire.
“As we got to know her in the recruiting process, we also realized that along with the focused, driven side was a young lady with a great personality who would be a great addition to any team.”
Jochen is certainly glad to have made the decision to come to Texas A&M. In addition to the opportunities she is receiving on the team, she is enjoying the benefits of being an Aggie and a part of the Aggie family.
“I chose A&M because of the incredible people here,” Jochen said. “The coaching staff just made me so comfortable and I knew that they were the coaching staff that I would trust more than anyone in the nation. It doesn’t stop with the people just on the coaching staff. The Aggie family is true and you can really feel it whenever you come to campus.
“I’ve lived in College Station all my life but when I came to campus, it was a completely different atmosphere. It is a different feeling when you are part of the Aggie family and can see how everyone treats each other. Everyone is so happy to be an Aggie. It is really cool and contagious.”
With such an impressive start to her collegiate career, observers might want to take notice of Jochen now and witness what she will do over the next four years. McRaven certainly believes she can go the distance.
“She is just starting to get her feet wet in college competition,” McRaven said. “She has set the bar high for herself and has some big goals. My job is to guide her so that those goals can become a reality. Most collegians take a couple years to really adapt to the 10k distance on the track. I think she is ready for it right now. She has come to our program better prepared to train at a high level than most freshmen.”
Jochen is not daunted by the long road ahead of her. She is ready to tackle whatever competition comes next with the spirited attitude her coaches love.
“I don’t think you can run at this level without loving it,” Jochen said. “It’s painful but you get to the point where you almost crave the pain sometimes. It makes you feel better. It makes me feel good about myself to know that I am pushing myself to my limits to see what I can do. It almost gives me an empowered feeling. I guess, since I am such a little girl, I never feel very powerful. To be able to get that feeling when I am running is wonderful.”
The next opportunity to witness this talented freshman will be at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational this Saturday. The invitational is one of the biggest preludes to the national championship, so it will be the prime opportunity for Jochen to see if her goal will be realized this semester.
Regardless of the outcome, with an eager attitude and an obvious aptitude, it is clear that Jochen will be going far in cross country at Texas A&M.