Even though Serena Ramsey was one of the top high school runners in Wisconsin her senior year, Missouri’s cross country program probably never would have heard of her if not for Ramsey’s grandfather.
Although Ramsey was planning on attending college on one of the coasts, her grandparents, who live in Chesterfield, were intent on keeping her in the Midwest.
“It was after Christmas, and I didn’t know where I wanted to go,” Ramsey said. “But my grandparents said I couldn’t go to coast schools because I was a Midwest girl.”
So Grandpa William Ramsey took it upon himself to initiate the recruiting process and called Rick McGuire, head of the track and field program at Missouri.
“He called up coach McGuire and said, ‘My granddaughter is one of the best cross country runners in Wisconsin and you need to recruit her,’ ” said Rebecca Wilmes, the women’s team coach. “At first I thought, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ I mean every grandparent says that about their grandkid. But I decided to check her out and thought, ‘Wow. I like this girl, and I want to coach her.’ ”
Ramsey, now a senior, said she immediately fell in love with the program after talking to Wilmes on the phone.
“I was ready to come the day I took my recruiting visit here,” Ramsey said. “My parents had to drag me into the car to leave. It was a perfect fit. I believe this is where I was meant to be.”
Four years later, Ramsey and fellow senior Jill Petersen will run the last race of their collegiate cross country careers today in the NCAA Championships.
“She is one of my best friends,” Petersen said. “I’m glad to have experienced my college career with her. Running with her has been amazing, and I’m going to miss it.”
Ramsey is coming off perhaps the biggest race of her career, setting a personal best of 21 minutes, 37 seconds, which shattered her old best by 30 seconds. That time earned her a fifth-place finish for the 6K in the NCAA Midwest Regional.
Wilmes said Ramsey’s training program allows her to run her best times at the biggest meets.
“Everything we do is focused on running fast at the end of the year,” Wilmes said. “She’s a big-meet racer. You’ve got to love having kids like that on your team who get it done when it matters.”
With the season near completion, it is a bittersweet time for Ramsey. Although she is eager to race in the championships, Ramsey said it will be sad when she crosses the finish line for the final time.
“I don’t really want to think about it,” Ramsey said. “We’ll be caught up in the moment after the race, and hopefully it will be a happy one. These girls are my best friends. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
Wilmes also said she doesn’t want to think about Ramsey and Petersen running their last races. Wilmes said she would worry about it later because thinking of the departing seniors detracts from the team’s mission of a top-10 finish.
Ramsey said practice is one of the things she will miss most. Practice is her best time of the day because of the camaraderie she has built with her teammates, Ramsey said. Whether they are catching up on each other’s lives or laughing at stories, Ramsey said, she and her teammates have developed a close bond with each other.
“We all get along so well and are really molding together as a team,” she said. “We’ll take everything we’ve done together this season and run with all of our hearts for each other. I feel like we all have our heads, our hearts and our legs headed in the right direction.”
Running has surrounded Ramsey life. Her siblings, mom and aunt all were runners. Her dad, Chris, has coached cross country for more than 30 years, including four as Ramsey’s coach at Waukesha West High School.
Ramsey would chase behind her dad while he ran the course and shouted words of encouragement to his runners. She grew up going to track meets and attending summer running camps. Although she was immersed in running from her childhood, Ramsey said racing was never pushed on her. She just got the passion and true love for it from her dad.
“I really, truly love running,” she said. “Every day I’m out there I give it my all. You never know if the next day you won’t be able to run.”
Ramsey said it is her passion for running that enables her to be so successful.
“I used to think, ‘I have to do this’ and ‘Serena, you have to get this certain place,’ ” she said. “But now I think of my passion and love for running and I’m so much happier and relaxed now. I am a better athlete because of it.”
Petersen said Ramsey’s passion extends from cross country to her studies in the classroom. Ramsey is a two-time Academic All-American at Missouri in addition to being a four-time Academic All-State recipient in high school.
“She puts 100 percent into everything she does,” Petersen said. “When she runs, works out or does schoolwork she never gives it anything less than her best.”
Wilmes said she can see that dedication through Ramsey’s mission to be an All-American, which would mean a top-30 finish. But Wilmes said there is also that drive in Ramsey to help her team to a top-10 finish. If the Tigers can finish in the top 10, it would be the highest placement for a women’s team since 1984.
“We are top 10 on paper in the voting,” Wilmes said. “But that means nothing. It is a lot harder to be in the top 10 on any particular day. We just need everyone to have a solid race.” We don’t need anyone to be a hero.”
Petersen said she is confident in the team’s ability to compete with the best in the nation.
“We’re going to go out on top,” Petersen said. “We came in as underdogs; we’ll go out on top.”