Distance running is not just an activity for Jenna Stutzman and her siblings. It’s a rite of passage.
After watching older brothers Tyler and Trevor garner all-state honors for Western Albemarle’s boys cross country team in 2008 and 2015, respectively, Jenna established her place in the family legacy with a runner-up finish at the recent VHSL Class 3 Cross Country championships at Green Hill Park in Salem.
Stutzman posted a personal-best time of 18 minutes, 46 seconds at the state meet to claim all-state honors for the first time and earn Daily Progress Athlete of the Week honors.
“The state meet was one of the most exciting and best races I’ve ever had,” Stutzman said. “I believe that it was successful because of a lot of things. I had my team around me the whole way. Sterling [Hull] took the initiative to lead most of the race and Kate [Ratcliffe] and I were right behind her. Being in a pack environment such as that really helps you relax mentally in the middle of a race. Because of that, I went into the third mile confident and strong, which allowed me to outkick [Charlottesville’s] Penelope Tingley in the final 1,000 meters.”
Stutzman’s journey to cross country success started nearly a decade ago as a fan. She watched her older brother Tyler finish second in the 2008 VHSL state championship meet at Great Meadow. Seven years later, she was there to watch brother Trevor place seventh in the 2015 championships.
Those performances left a lasting impact.
“I started running cross country mainly because I had watched my brothers do so when I was growing up,” she said. “I’d been involved in the local running community for most of my early life, so it was a natural progression to start running with Western’s cross country team.”
Running wasn’t Stutzman’s only interest as a child. She enjoyed dancing and took ballet for 11 years before recently stepping aside to focus on other activities, including running.
“I find it fun, more fun that any other sport that I’ve participated in,” she said of running. “It combines elements of both individual and team competition and engages me mentally and physically.”
Recognized mostly as an individual sport, Stutzman said Western Albemarle embraces the team concept when the Warriors take the line for a cross country meet. Before every race, the team gets together in a circle and performs a cheer to get them psyched and help bring the team together.
When they step to the starting lineup, it’s all business.
“It’s always nice to go into a race knowing that you have the team with you every step of the way,” Stutzman said. “Right before the gun [sounds], I try to think about how much I’ve been preparing for the race I’m about to run and how I have my team around me. As far as racing strategy, I’ve been taught to stick close, but sit back and go later. I usually start to make a move at the second mile.”
That’s when the competitor comes out.
“Cross country takes a lot of individual drive and motivation,” she said. “Having the team is fantastic, but nobody else can push you. The only person who can push me is me. I also have to have an open mindset and know that I can always push myself further and harder.”
She credits her brother Tyler for instilling that competitive drive in her. The 2009 Virginia Gatorade Runner of the Year went on to compete at Stanford and had a successful collegiate career. Jenna said they talk on a regular basis and he has been a great resource.
“Tyler’s imparted a lot of valuable, experienced advice,” she said. “He mainly helps with my form while running and also helps set goals.”
Heading into the meet, Stutzman and the Western coaching staff had set 19 minutes as a goal for her to strive for at the state meet. Tyler went a step further and suggested 18:50 as the goal.
“One of the things he’s told me that has stuck in my head is the only person that can stop you from having a good workout or race is you,” she said. “I feel a little pressure to match his accomplishments, but not a lot. I know that if I work hard, I’ll do well. I know I’m my own person and it’s kind of cool to have a brother that broke the four minute mile.”
Stutzman admitted the season wasn’t always perfect. She was disappointed by her own performances at the beginning of the season, but credited the Albemarle Invitational as the turning point on the season. She finished 13th at the high-profile meet at Panorama Farms with a time of 19:35.
“It was the first race of the season where I felt confident in my ability to run well,” she said. “Things started to look up after the Albemarle Invitational, where I finally felt like I was improving. States was an awesome way to end the season.”
Stutzman’s interests outside of running are robust as well. She enjoys making ceramics and baking in her spare time and also plays the piano as part of her church youth group’s worship band. She also enjoys a game of Dungeons and Dragons and fancies herself as an impressionist.
“I have a knack for doing accents,” she said. “My favorite is the classic New York, ‘How you doin’?’”
In addition, she’s a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, swing dance club and the Science National Honor Society. Stutzman also is a big movie buff.
“I’m addicted to anything Marvel,” she said. “I also enjoy listening to Imagine Dragons, the Into the Spider-verse soundtrack and other movie soundtracks.”
Only a sophomore, Stutzman is intrigued with the idea of continuing her career at the next level. She’s unsure what she might try to study, but is intrigued by diagnosing sports-related injuries in physiology or possibly studying mechanical or aerospace engineering.
“I think running in college would be a really fun and challenging experience,” she said. “There are so many options out there, I guess I’ll see what happens.”