By Philip Cmor
When Abby Wagner first went out for track and field back in seventh grade, it was as a runner.
By her own admission, that didn't work out very well.
So Wagner switched to the jumps and her career, almost literally, took off.
The culmination of that was on Monday afternoon, when Wagner, the Altoona Area High School senior, announced that she had signed a letter-of-intent with Division I Central Michigan University.
"Since the beginning, it's been Abby's goal to jump and compete at a Division I university," Altoona girls track coach Steve Rhodes said. "The hard work and dedication she's put into her sport has now paid off. She exemplifies the term 'student-athlete,' and I'm sure the ability to balance her academic responsibilities with her athletic commitments will serve her well at CMU."
A three-time PIAA Class AAA meet qualifier, Wagner will be involved in her specialties at Central Michigan: the long and triple jumps. She also might compete in the pentathlon or heptathlon and is running the hurdles this spring.
"I am extremely excited Abby decided on Central Michigan University as her home for the next four years. Not only does she bring the needed talent and depth in triple jump and long jump we are looking for, she also brings with her a strong academic background and a very positive personality," said Chippewas jumps and multi-events coach Andrew Basler. "I am expecting Abby to contribute immediately at the conference level in the horizontal jumps as a freshman."
Wagner verbally committed to the Chippewas in early December over James Madison and sent in her letter-of-intent last week. She also considered Dayton, Elon and Shippensburg.
"When I went on my visit there [in the end of November], I met all the coaches and all the team," Wagner said. "They just brought in a new coaching staff, and they're really nice and really eager to get the program going. Everyone on the team was just awesome, and I loved the campus."
Wagner said the ability to pursue either physical therapy of physician's assistant weighed heavily on her decision, too. The biggest draw, though, was the new coaching staff, led by first-year head coach Mark Guthrie.
Guthrie coached the Wisconsin-LaCrosse men to 22 Division III national titles and was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.
Wagner liked the idea of being part of a track program trying to build a foundation with her as one of the building blocks.
"The coaches were about improving me and getting me better," Wagner said. "They kept emphasizing it's going to be a championship culture there. It's so positive. They're so energetic about everything. That drew me in even more, because they had such a positive attitude."
Wagner finished 11th in the triple jump at last year's state meet. She was the District 6 Class AAA champion in the triple jump as a freshman, a three-time Mirror all-star and a two-time Big A Outstanding Performer Award winner.
"I just went out for track in seventh grade and loved it. Ever since then, it's been a big part of my life," Wagner said. "I didn't really know a lot about it at first. At the start, I was more of a runner and I jumped a little, but I really wasn't very good at it. In eighth and ninth grade, I got better and I started to realize I might be able to go somewhere in it.
"I think the jumps are very competitive, and they're a lot of fun."
Wagner said a background in gymnastics - she was a gymnast from first through 11th grades before giving it up this year to focus on winter track - has helped her in the jumps, with its emphasis on coordination and body control. She played soccer in eighth grade and likes to spend free time with her friends and watching movies.
"This year, I want to qualify for Penn Relays - I just missed it last year - and I definitely want to make states for my fourth year in a row. Hopefully, I'll make the medal stand," Wagner said of her future goals. "At Central Michigan, I just want to better myself and see where that takes me."