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Female sprint trio are the leaders of the 2017 Fighting Scots track team

Barry McNamara
Beka Wollenburg is a country girl from Aledo, Ill.

TaShea’ Tinglin is a big city kid from the Chicago suburb of Calumet City.

And Briana Gardner’s from the middle, just outside Peoria in the heart of Illinois.

They took different paths to get to Monmouth College, but that diverse trio of senior sprinters is now the dominant force leading the Fighting Scots national-caliber track and field program – not only among its women, but its men, as well.

“I’m really pleased that all three come from such different backgrounds, but they’ve bought in to Monmouth College track and field,” said Roger Haynes, who’s in his 34th year as head track coach, including 18 years in charge of the women’s team. “The way they’ve come together despite those different backgrounds is pretty remarkable. I have great respect for them. They’ve put their trust in a loud, old coach and really bought in.”

The respect is mutual.

Asked why Monmouth track and field has been so successful throughout the years – the program has produced an All-American every year since 1985, and the men’s team has won every Midwest Conference indoor title this century – Wollenburg had a quick, short answer.

“Coach Haynes,” she replied.

“He just knows so much information. He’s got an analogy for everything. He goes above and beyond to help people get better. His coaching plan is the best in the league. You’re not necessarily going to understand everything he says as a freshman or a sophomore, but he is just a fountain of knowledge about track.”

Gardner stated a sentiment shared by the others – that Haynes is more than just a coach.

“He’s very understanding,” she said. “I see him like a father figure. I can come to him with things, and he has an open heart and an open ear. I have a lot of respect for him. He believed in me, even though I didn’t believe in myself. It’s why I’m still here.”
Tinglin had a similar experience.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to run track,” she said. “Some of the upperclassmen on the basketball team (Jasmine Johnson and Kim Coleman) said, ‘You’re so fast. Just do it.’ ... I got to know Coach Haynes, and he was very welcoming, very encouraging. Even though I was separate initially, I felt I could be a part of the team. With his coaching, and getting to know my teammates, it’s one of the reasons I’m still here.”

Tinglin admitted that she was “nervous” to get to know her new head coach.

“He’s just very blunt. But I love that aspect about him. He’s clear and concise.”

Tinglin explained how the training she’s received, including understanding race models, has made her a much faster sprinter than she was in high school.

“In the 200, I used to be good for the first 120, and then ‘I’m dead. I don’t have anything else to give.’ Now I’ve learned about force production at each stage of the race. I can run the race smarter, but still run it hard.”

But she also knows the value of a good, old-fashioned motivational talk from her coach.

“My most memorable moment was breaking the indoor sprint medley record this year,” said Tinglin. “We’d been pretty poor up until conference. We just didn’t have the right mindset. Coach Haynes gave us a pep talk – some tough love – and we all came together.”

That team, which also included Wollenburg, set the new standard of 4:12.59.

“I’m tremendously improved,” said Tinglin of her college career. “I never expected to run the times I’m running. Every year, I’ve gotten better. Coach Haynes trains us so hard, and so specifically.”

Wollenburg also recalled an event from that recent MWC meet, but for a different reason.

“One of the highlights for me actually wasn’t a good race,” she said. “It was the indoor 200. I talked to Coach Haynes afterward, and he asked me how it went. I told him, ‘Not well.’ He just hugged me and told me he loved me. That’s something I’ll never forget.”

Gardner’s top highlight came during her sophomore year, when she took advantage of a “last chance” qualifier meet to set a personal best – her first sub-25-second 200-meter dash – a mark she then shattered at the national meet to become an All-American.

“Nationals was quite an experience, and something I never imagined happening,” she said. “What Coach Haynes does, I don’t think you can set the bar too high for what you’re capable of doing. Everyone on the team has gotten better in some shape or form.”

Haynes says the individual and team success the program experiences wouldn’t be possible without buy-in from team leaders.

“They use their different personalities to put the message out there,” he said of the senior trio. “It’s good when the team hears it from someone different than me. They believe in what we believe.”

He continued: “Track is everybody else’s punishment. It’s the back of a T-shirt, but it’s true. Our practices are challenging, and it takes discipline to run on days that maybe you don’t want to. They set the bar for our work ethic and attitude, and they bring a toughness to the team.”

“It grew on me,” said Gardner of her leadership role. “As a freshman, I looked up to the juniors and seniors, and when I became a junior, I felt I owed it to the team to work on keeping everybody on the right track – kind of the ‘been there, done that’ thing.”

Said Tinglin, “Of the three of us, I’m pretty much the most vocal – the one to say ‘This is what we need to do to get better,’ both on the track and in the weight room. You’ve got to be strong to run fast.”

“I tell recruits all the time, ‘It’s a family,’ said Wollenburg. “It’s a way to have a family, even when you’re away from home. You can go to someone on the team if something in life goes wrong, whether it’s academics or with your personal life. Coach Haynes is helpful with that stuff, too.”

Haynes knows he has a special trio in the three senior sprinters.

“Bri’s grown up, matured and overcome a lot,” he said. “Her confidence and communication skills have come so far. Shea’s got a great toughness to her, and she’s the voice of the team. She knows when to pat someone on the back and when to call someone out. She’s really strong with building relationships on the team and instilling discipline. And Beka’s really bought in on the hard work.”

Said Wollenburg, “Track’s been a big part of my life, and Coach Haynes has had a key role in my career. He has a big plan behind everything we do. I know his plan will work out, and good things will come.”

Good things, indeed, have come to the student-athletes who comprise the Fighting Scots track and field team – not only during competition, but in the classroom and in their lives, as well.

“Even though we’re doing different kinds of events, we all have dedication, commitment and passion,” said Gardner. “It shows through, even though we come from different backgrounds, different high schools, different ages and even the female/male difference. We apply ourselves and compete. We’re really the definition of a team.”