La Crosse connection runs from Minnesota to West Allis

Gary Wilson coached Emily Brown’s high school coach at La Crosse.

Robert Mews

The connections between the Twin Cities and La Crosse, Wis., go further than the mighty Mississippi River.

Minnesota women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson and junior distance runner Emily Brown illustrate this.

That’s because Brown’s high school coach at West Allis, Wis., Doug Jordan, ran for coach Wilson at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Three decades later, Wilson’s impact on Jordan has gone full circle back to Wilson’s coaching of Brown.

“Looking back on it, I think it’s kind of weird that my (high school) coach would have been coached by Gary,” Brown said.

Wilson said the La Crosse program, which he helped build into Wisconsin predominance, has many connections.

It was Jordan who called and sent Wilson e-mails regarding Brown’s high school running.

“He said, “I think this kid is going to be great. You should recruit her,’ ” Wilson said. “And I said, “Well Doug, she was 47th in the state last year.’ “

However, Wilson said he recalls a trip to a Big Ten meet in Champaign, Ill., a year later when Jordan made a call that helped change Wilson’s mind.

“He’s yelling at me. “Coach, coach, Emily just got second in the state, oh my God,’ ” Wilson said.

Wilson said he then decided to take the trip to West Allis and meet Brown. The rest might be history ” well, almost.

Brown suffered a break in her ankle during her senior year of high school. She then redshirted her freshman year. At that time, Brown found her current roommate and Gopher distance runner, Jacenta Spandl.

She said adapting to college life was made easier because of the down time due to the injury.

The similarities between Jordan and Wilson might have made things easier as well.

“The thing that they both kind of share, they treat you like you are their daughter,” Brown said.

The coaching similarities run parallel as well.

“One of the very first things we did was visualization,” Brown said. “And then he’s going through it, and I’m like, “Oh, this is exactly the same, like to the T.’ “

Brown sustained another ankle injury during her sophomore year.

But she said the injury helped her instead of destroying her.

“I just kind of feel lucky that I was able to sit back,” Brown said. “It adds more motivation to just get as much done right now as I can.”

Despite the injuries, Brown is cruising on the track this season. This past weekend at the Meyo Invitational in South Bend, Ind., Brown broke the school record in the 3,000 meters and helped break the school record in the distance medley relay.

“Just her recovery has been amazing, to be able to come back from having surgery on both ankles,” Spandl said. “A lot of people would have given up and said it’s not worth it.”

Wilson said he credits that performance to her blue-collar work ethic.

“She’s got that grit,” Wilson said. “That tough blue-collar grit.”