Courtney Frerichs can run faster than you.
Already one of the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s most-decorated athletes, she’ll represent UMKC in the steeplechase on Thursday in the semifinals of the NCAA Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Entering the field as one of three favorites, Frerichs hopes to become UMKC’s first-ever national champion and to bring the title back to Kansas City.
Frerichs enters the race as the top seed after running the fastest collegiate steeplechase this year in May. Her time of 9:32.12 was the third-fastest collegiate time in NCAA history and the second-fastest any American woman has run so far in 2015, according to UMKC.
Her fast time quickly put her on the radar of national running publications and even started speculation that she could compete for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team headed to Rio de Janeiro. She plans to compete for a spot in the world championships, set for China in August.
First up, though, is the NCAA title.
“The field is super talented this year so it’s going to be difficult but I’m going to put my best effort out there to try to win one,” Frerichs says.
Despite her success, Frerichs is new to the steeplechase, a grueling nearly-two-mile race in which runners also must jump over barriers and negotiate a water pit. Growing up in Nixa, Missouri, Frerichs spent hours training in gymnastics and played soccer.
Not all that serious about running, she showed enough athletic talent to earn a scholarship to UMKC and she arrived on campus three years ago never having run a steeplechase.
She took to it quickly. Just months later, Frerichs qualified for the 2012 Junior World Championships in Barcelona.
“My freshman year I still thought of myself as a gymnast who ran,” Frerichs says. “After that summer when I did Junior Worlds, I shifted to, ‘I’m a runner.’ And I just really looked at taking care of all the details.”
Details like building up her training to 10 workouts a week, encompassing long distances and shorter pacing runs.
Frerichs breathes, eats, and sleeps training – except when she’s finding time to complete the requirements to graduate with a degree in chemistry. Left with one year of eligibility, she picked up a second major, psychology, while she continues to attend classes and train at UMKC.
“She's very, very good,” says John Kissane, a contributing writer for Running Times magazine. “I would say she is on the cusp of world class right now.”
While she still has to improve her time to be a threat in Rio, Frerichs is turning heads with her meteoric rise from running rookie to steeplechase giant. And it has boosted the visibility of the UMKC track program.
“On the track clearly she's someone that a lot of people are aware of now because she has run so fast this spring,” Kissane says. “I definitely think she's going to help the program there.”
In May, Frerichs helped the UMKC women’s team to the Western Athletic Conference championship.
“When you see some girl flying down the Trolley Trail, that's her,” says UMKC assistant track coach James Butler. “She's kind of getting known as that fast girl I see running every day.”
Quick to deflect praise, Frerichs credits Butler’s coaching for turning her from a raw athlete into an elite runner. And Butler says the best may be yet to come.
“Every year we think it can't possibly get a whole lot faster and she still does,” Butler says. “It's exciting every time we step on the track. It’s like, ‘Well, let's see what we can do.”
Watch Frerichs compete in the Steeplechase semifinals at the NCAA Track & Field Championships at 6:38 p.m. Central Time on ESPN3. The finals are on Saturday at 4:27 p.m. on ESPN2.