Sept. 18, 2017
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word –
Perhaps it shocked some on the outside looking in when Nicole Fegans won her first collegiate cross country competition and finished 10th in her second because she’s a freshman, but Georgia Tech head coach Alan Drosky sure wasn’t surprised.
Fegans came “highly recommended,” as football coach Paul Johnson likes to say of his recruits, and she brought a track record of winning to The Flats.
“She’s very accomplished, obviously very talented,” Drosky said. “In other sports, you’d call her a five-star recruit . . . If we want our program to get back to where it was, which is qualifying for nationals as a team, we need to work really hard on [recruiting] people like Nicole.”
It wasn’t exactly a stunner when she covered the 4,000 meters at the Jacksonville State Open on Sept. 2 in 14:06.40 ahead of all other runners, despite running unattached – a typical practice for freshmen running in their first meet.
As a senior at Landmark Christian School, the Douglasville resident won the state class A-private school title in 18:36.20, bettered that in winning the Georgia Meet of Champions (17:43.86), finished fourth in the Foot Locker South Regionals (17:26.80) and then crossed seventh in the Foot Locker Nationals (17:48.67).
No wonder she was named Georgia’s Gatorade Player of the Year for cross country. Oh, and then she hit the track and took state championships in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
Although Fegans and her teammates were battling illness in what she said, “everyone was calling freshman fever,” she finished 10th on Sept. 9 in the UGA Invitational, which was a 6K race – as all her remaining events will be.
The Yellow Jackets finished second as a team in Athens with Mary Prouty coming in seventh (22:08.3), Fegans 10th (22:18.3), Amy Ruiz 11th (22:24.6) and Hailey Gollnick 12th (22:36.2).
That was a learning event with a much deeper field, more distance and a difficult course.
“I think it wouldn’t have been as drastic a change if the course wasn’t super hilly. We hadn’t done a ton of hills yet and it was over a half-mile longer so that was a really hard race,” Fegans recalled. “Coach said that was going to be the hardest one that we’ll do this season.”
Relatively speaking, however, running is not hard for Fegans.
She began dabbling in the sport as a middle schooler and, when she got serious, her father, Chris Fegans, jumped in to help. A former competitive runner himself, the elder Fegans even competed against Drosky in high school, where Tech’s coach once ran for Riverdale and Fegans competed for North Clayton High.
“I would do 5Ks on the weekend for fun with the family, but one of my best friends was going to do track and I said I would do it, too,” Fegans said. “Once I kind of noticed I was good at it, my dad kind of stepped in. Once he saw I had an interest he kind of helped me get focused.”
Her determination meshes well with Drosky and assistant coach Becky Megesi, who are focused on raising Tech.
“Compared to recent years, it’s a lot deeper and Nicole certainly adds to that,” the head coach said of the women’s increasing talent. “In the last couple years, the women have really started to move in a good direction and they’ve followed that up with some really good improvements in the track season.
“Amy Ruiz was our No. 1 finisher in virtually every meet last year, and where Amy was running at a pretty high level, it was Amy and then maybe a 30-second gap to our next finisher. Now, we’ve got a group of five and almost six that are about where Amy was last year.”
Fegans is happy to run with the Jackets’ crowd. She’s been something of a loner for a few years, at least when running, because few competitors or teammates could keep up. There’s more company in training now.
“It’s very nice to have people to run with,” she explained. “In high school – almost my last two years – I was kind of alone because I had one other teammate who was hurt.
“Now, when you think you can’t do something you have someone two inches away who’s also struggling. It helps you want to become a better teammate and you push through.”
Tech is pushing toward the Paul Short Invitational in Bethlehem, Pa., on Sept. 29. That field will be populated by what Drosky describes as a very deep field.
After that, the Jackets have the Alabama Crimson Classic on Oct. 13 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., the ACC Championships on Oct. 27 at Louisville, then NCAA South Regional on Nov. 10 at the University of Alabama, and the NCAA Championships on Nov. 18 at Louisville.
Drosky likes Tech’s chances better this fall than in recent years, and Fegans is quickly becoming one of the reasons.
“Probably the biggest strength is her level of competitiveness,” he said. “She wants to win. She’s aggressive. She goes out hard, tries to get to the front and stay in the front. It’s a mentality that on some level is kind of innate. I think it’s how they train at Landmark; they race fast from the beginning.”