Spirit and speed: Wayzata runner Nechanicky doesn’t waver and doesn’t lose

Basketball practices during Abbey Nechanicky's freshman year at Wayzata ended with free throws designed to simulate late-game scenarios when tired players must summon stamina and focus to drain critical shots.

Nechanicky decided one day to keep going until she missed. She made 121 consecutive shots.

Now a senior, Nechanicky recalled, "I was automatic at that point."

Pushing beyond in cross-country, once her secondary sport, earned Nechanicky attention from far beyond a gymnasium. Earlier this month, she became just the fourth Minnesota female high school runner to break 17 minutes in a 5,000-meter race. She did it again in her next two races.

The third race in her unprecedented run happened Wednesday at the Class 3A, Section 6 meet. Her personal-best finish of 16 minutes, 43.70 seconds ranks second in Minnesota history; only Analee Weaver of Stillwater has done better, by 1.1 seconds in 2020. Which is why Nechanicky is the overwhelming favorite entering the Class 3A state championship meet Saturday in Northfield.

Her only real competition comes on the national level. She is ranked No. 3 in the United States by respected distance-running website DyeStat.com. Nechanicky committed to run for the University of Colorado earlier this season.

Mention her greatness, Nechanicky speaks of gratitude. Mention her amazing times, she brings up her Wayzata team favored to win the state meet. Her renewed humble pride owes to last season, when a sacral stress fracture wiped out all but the season's first race.

"It's crazy to think about where I was a year ago, just crutching around at races," Nechanicky said. "Being able to toe the line with my teammates brings me so much joy."

Sis started it all

Riley Nechanicky appropriately calls it the family's running joke, how they blame her for Abbey's success.

Riley, four years older, ran cross-country for Providence Academy in Plymouth. She began inviting Abbey on training runs. The middle-schooler couldn't manage more than a half-mile, leading to huge arguments.

Both sisters competed at the 2018 state meet. Then a senior, Riley placed second among Lions runners as the team finished 10th in Class 1A. Abbey took the 10th spot in Class 2A as an eighth-grader. She improved to second as a freshman in 2019.

COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 state meet. The injury suffered at the St. Olaf Showcase in 2021 ended Nechanicky's junior season. She remained a fixture at races, zooming around to encourage teammates despite a crutch under each arm.

Their running squabbles long since forgotten, the sisters leaned on their closeness during Abbey's rehabilitation process. Riley encouraged her sister to start journaling, something Abbey still does daily.

"Coming back from an injury is never a straight incline," said Abbey, whose rehab lasted from about September to February. "So, instead of focusing on the long term and getting back to where I was, I started to measure my success on the little things."

Wayzata distance running coach Addy Hallen limited Nechanicky to five workouts per week and about 30 training miles, low for a high-caliber runner but necessary to avoid further injury. Nechanicky maintained the regimen through the summer and into this fall.

"Coach Hallen has taken amazing care of Abbey," Riley said. "It's about the quality of the miles versus the quantity. She wouldn't be racing like she is this year without going through last year."

Here to help

Nechanicky returned to crushing races, not crutching around, this fall. She writes the word "blessed" on her left hand. And she remains team-oriented. When she has left the pack in her wake, Nechanicky "pushes as hard as I can" for her teammates.

"Watching them come across the finish line," she said, "it's really cool to see everybody super happy with their performance."

The Trojans ran away with the Class 3A, Section 6 championship. All seven runners placed in the top 10: Grace Mignone (third), Maddie Gullickson (fourth), Teegan Anderson (sixth), Alyson Kleyman (seventh), Aubrey Smith (eighth) and Grace Weber (10th). A little more than one minute separated Wayzata runners 2 through 7.

Nechanicky and fellow seniors Anderson, Mignone and Weber have run together the past five years and seek a state title, followed by a spot at the Nike Cross Nationals in December in Portland, Ore. Wayzata is ranked ninth nationally by DyeStat.com.

Basketball still occupies Nechanicky's winters. She said her 5-foot-4 frame led to her retiring after playing as a freshman point guard on Wayzata's junior varsity team. But she still serves as team manager. And players argue over which team she'll join for free-throw contests.

Her unwavering support of athletes isn't confined to high school. Nechanicky and Weber coached Hallen's son in a 3-on-3 basketball league last summer. And Nechanicky helped sister Riley finish her first marathon.

The older Nechanicky competed in the Cowtown Marathon in February in Fort Worth, Texas, near the Texas Christian University campus where Riley is a senior.

She hit the wall near mile 20. Her pace, which started around 8:45 per mile, dropped into the 11-minute range. Her fatigue worsened as her AirPods died. Then Abbey jumped into the race.

"It was about 4 miles of a one-sided conversation at that point," Riley said. "I finished alone, but she saved the day. She said afterward, 'I'm going to run one of these someday.' I told her, 'No, because I need one thing that I can still do better than you.' "