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Track Athlete of the Year: Maggie Gutwein's drive crucial during unusual season

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Lips purse and turn ever so much into the beginning of a frown. And the eyes tilt up slightly, as if the action might break into a full-blown eye roll.

Maggie Gutwein still isn’t happy about the end of her final track season, where she missed out on a third consecutive all-class state finals meet because of a few seconds, or a couple placements, or call it what you will. Her sectional time would have placed her 13th among the 27 qualifiers, but she finished sixth at the West Lafayette Regional. In the end, Gutwein was two spots away from the automatic qualifying criteria for the 27-girl field.

“I mean, it is what it is,” Gutwein laughed. “You can’t really do anything about it. It’s just how the process is for qualifying for state.”

She admittedly was still upset, but stopped dwelling on it — until it was brought up — and will soon stop again, once it’s put out of her mind.

“And she went out running well,” Twin Lakes girls coach Tonya Boer said, which led the senior to break in: “I finished with a better time (at regionals) than half the girls that ran (at state).”

It still doesn’t take away from the fact Gutwein double-gold medaled in a third consecutive Benton Sectional, placing first in the 1,600- (5 minutes, 19.25 seconds) and 3,200-meter runs (11:36.23) and ran an 11:08.48 in the regional’s 3,200. Add a fifth-place finish at the 2019 Hoosier State Relays indoor meet — essentially, the state indoor championships — and a handful of other top placements and one has the distinction of being the 2019 White County Track Athlete of the Year.

“I know what to do every single meet: if it’s a really important meet or a not-that-important meet,” Gutwein said. “I just go out there and put out my all-out depending on what kind of meet it is. I definitely know what Boer expects of me, and always try to fulfill that. By senior year, you know what you need to do and what you need to get done.”

Gutwein’s accomplishments this season seemingly put a nice bow around what was a four-year distance career that earned her a spot amongst the Indian elite in regards to all-time distance running. When the Iowa City-bound runner signed her National Letter of Intent to run for the University of Iowa, it cemented a goal she had when she came in as a freshman and was pushed by then-teammate Madeline Lilly, who is now a distance runner at Purdue.

“When I was younger, she was the really good distance runner at Twin Lakes and I said I wanted to be like her and break her record some day,” Gutwein said. “Running against her (as teammates) made me want it that much more. She pushed me to be a better runner and competitor. She mentored me through freshman year, in cross-county and track.”

Gutwein eventually broke Lilly’s track records in the 1,600 and 3,200, both as a junior in 2018. Her name now resides on the Twin Lakes track and field record board between the events (1,600 and 3,200) and their times (5:07.99 and 10:55.75).

“Seeing my name up there is a big accomplishment,” Gutwein said. “Going into my sophomore year, after basketball practice when I would go and run (the halls), I’d look at it every single time. I was like, ‘I want my name up there.’ I would literally sit in class before meets and be so mad I hadn’t broken those records yet. It would motivate me.

“Seeing those numbers makes me trust the process even more, trust the coaches and what I did. I’m really blessed that my training has come together how it did.”

Boer and Twin Lakes boys coach James Creamer have known Gutwein most of her life. Before becoming the girls varsity coach, Boer was the junior high coach when Gutwein was in seventh and eight grade. Creamer taught Gutwein as far back as first grade. Both sufficiently praised an athlete who, through the years, garnered 14 letters across four sports and reached the state-meet level eight times as a distance runner.

“Having known her and what she achieved as a middle schooler … she’s a very mature athlete, a very dedicated athlete,” Boer said. “Her focus is above and beyond many of those I have worked with. The true dedication and heart she shows to her running has given her this opportunity, and it’s exciting to see.”

Added Creamer, “Everything she’s done is something she looked forward to accomplishing. She had multiple goals in mind when she entered high school … and she wanted to go to college and run, wanted to go to a Big Ten university. There was nothing that was going to hold her back from accomplishing that.”

Gutwein played softball and ran track during the spring as a freshman and sophomore. She scaled back to three sports — distance running and basketball — by the time junior year rolled around, but still ventured to push limits.

“After her sophomore year of cross-country, she told me she wanted to train for track and cross-country during basketball season, too. And basketball is a sport she likes, plays well,” Creamer said. “I told her in season, basketball was her priority.

“But I said, ‘Why don’t you figure out how much mileage you’re getting in during the season?’ Because I didn’t want her doing too much but I knew if I didn’t give her anything, the type of kid she is, she would overdo it. Because she wanted it (to be ready for college running) so badly.”

A college career was in the plans for quite a while. An avid Purdue fan growing up — her father and multiple siblings attended or attend the school — the attraction began early. Gutwein watched Purdue exclusively, but soon looked at the Big Ten a little more broadly, for research purposes.

“I looked at other people’s times that were running at the Big Ten level and looked at their high school times and said, ‘I need to be running these,’” she said. “I put those numbers together for cross-country and track and later discussed it with Boer and we laid out what I needed to do.”

Gutwein qualified for state in the 3,200 as a sophomore in 11:05.86, and quickly looked into college running soon after. That time broke Lilly’s record, and would be cut by 10 seconds a year later.

“That kinda was a big jump for me, because I never thought I would break the record Madeline had,” Gutwein recalled. “Once I did that, I thought, ‘I can run at the Big Ten (level) because Madeline goes to Purdue’ and I was younger and didn’t know all that much. I was like, ‘I can do it, too.’”

It took a little reigning in from Boer and Creamer for her to realize it wasn’t that simple, but there was a path available. The thought process previously pointed her to West Lafayette, with the family and Lilly connections and influence. But Iowa had its own appeal — “I discovered there are other programs that are just as good as Purdue. I kinda wanted to be my own person, explore my own journey.”

She has, and will continue to in Iowa City.

Gutwein never finished lower than second at the Benton Central Sectional across four years. In three West Lafayette Regionals, she placed no lower than sixth. She won three consecutive cross-country gold medals at the sectional and regional level, and placed outside of the top-10 at the Semi-State level just once in four years.

Gutwein hold records for the Benton Central Sectional 3,200, the RMD 3,200 (11:08.00) and the Bi-County 1,600 (5:09.16) and 3,200 (11:11.6).

“This is something I’ve watched with her all along. She’s one of those kids — any sport she did, she was going to do well at. I’ve never seen anybody who works harder or is more motivated,” Creamer said. “She is just an amazing kid, person and it’s been an absolute privilege to be associated with her for the amount of time I have been associated with her.”