Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – What’s next for Taylor Aguillon? The Olympics?
Don’t laugh. It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.
Aguillon is a senior and the No. 1 or No. 2 runner – depending on the day -- on the Central Michigan women’s cross country team.
Pretty amazing for someone who had never run a cross country race and was never part of a varsity cross country team, college or otherwise, before this season.
And yet the Dimondale native goes in to Saturday’s Mid-American Conference Championships in Oxford, Ohio with a better-than-good chance to earn All-MAC honors.
“It’s pretty unbelievable for her to be performing at the level that she is with one season,” said CMU director of cross country/track & field Jennifer Swieton, who likened Auillon’s ascension from unknown to budding star to taking a strong-armed intramural flag football player and making him the Chippewas’ starting quarterback.
“That’s what she did,” Swieton said. “I think it’s her attitude and I think it’s her teammates. She has done everything that she needed to to achieve her success. A lot of it has to with how open and how welcoming the team has been towards her.”
Aguillon wasn’t exactly a running neophyte before signing on with the Chippewas this season. She was a regular in 5K events near her hometown, Holt, since her high school days and running for conditioning was a major component of her training as a prep soccer player.
She transferred to CMU in 2015 after earning an associate’s degree from Lansing Community College. She completed with the CMU running club, which compete against clubs representing other colleges and universities.
Megan O’Neil and Hannah Davis, both veteran members of the CMU varsity, took note of Aguillon’s success with the club, as did Chippewa cross country coach Matt Kaczor.
“I got a Facebook message from Megan and Hannah,” Aguillon said. “They were like, ‘Hey coach Kaczor wants to talk to you.’”
Aguillon met with Kaczor last spring and the coach provided her a summer training plan.
Aguillon made her varsity debut at CMU’s Jeff Drenth Memorial in late August, finishing second overall and first among Chippewa runners. She followed that with a seventh-place finish – one spot behind O’Neil – at the MSU Spartan Invitational, a race that comprised 290 runners.
“It’s obviously a big difference,” Aguillon said. “You’re going from amateur running to, ‘This is the real thing.’ Leading up to Drenth I was kind of nervous, but once I got to the starting line the nerves just kind of went away. I just went about my business.”
The competition improved in the Chippewas’ next event, the Greater Louisville Classic. Aguillon was 109th of 328 runners and was the second Chippewa, again behind O’Neil, to cross the finish line.
Aguillon had run in a large-field race at Michigan State, but the difference at Louisville was the competition level. The field included several ranked teams.
“I’ve never been in a race that big before,” Aguillon said. “I got kind of stuck at the beginning and I kind of panicked a little bit because I couldn’t just go, couldn’t just run.”
Two weeks later, on the same course at Louisville in the Adidas Pre-Nationals, Aguillon finished 87th of 288 runners in an even stronger field. She edged O’Neil for the No. 1 spot among Chippewa runners.
“I knew what to expect at Pre-Nats so that really helped me lot,” said Agillon, who is majoring in health education with a minor in nutrition. “I kind of got stuck again but ended up OK. I passed Megan and it was like ‘Wow, I’m doing this. I’m going.’”
Several factors have helped Aguillon make the adjustment, among them an absence of long-term training fatigue along with a relatively untroubled state of mind toward the sport, Swieton said. It's also all-or-nothing for Aguillon this fall. Under NCAA rules, she cannot compete in track and field, be it indoors or outdoors, because she has been a college student for five years.
“If you talk to the women on the team about when they raced in high school, everything was new and exciting to them and you had fun and competed,” Swieton said. “That’s the stage (Aguillon) is in right now.
“When you have done it for six, seven, eight years, you put pressure on yourself to achieve more. She is still in the new and fun phase. As a coach, I am trying to keep everybody in that phase. We need to make sure everybody remembers why they love to run. Everything is like icing on the cake for her.
“It’s good for the other women on the team to see that she doesn’t put any unnecessary pressure on herself. She goes out and does it, and does well. That’s one of the beauties of cross country and why it’s one of the simplest, purist sports. She truly embodies that.”
It also helped that the likes of O’Neil and Davis welcomed Aguillon and embraced her.
“We could have a lot of girls that are intimidated by her, but our team is not like that at all,” Swieton said. “They are awesome and supportive, and want everyone to do the best they can no matter what position that puts them on the team.
“I think that’s a huge reason why Taylor has found success as well. Nobody is threatened by her. They have all embraced her.”