During one track and cross country recruiting trip back in the 2008–09 season, former Temple coach Matt Jelley noticed one runner who stood out from the rest of the pack.
“Wow, who’s that girl from Jackson?” Jelley asked.
“Her? She’s a sophomore,” someone answered.
“I’ll be talking to her in a couple years,” Jelley responded.
That girl from Jackson Memorial High School is Temple sophomore Jenna Dubrow, whose 13th place finish last week was the best placement and time in the seven years the women’s team has run the 6K race at the Paul Short Invitational, breaking a record she set last year when she finished 40th overall. The race marks the eighth straight meet in which Dubrow has led the team, as she has quickly emerged as the bona fide star of the roster.
“[The race] went very well,” Dubrow said after the event. “I wasn’t expecting to be 13th. I wanted to be high up in the places, but 13th was a nice surprise and I felt really strong.”
“This is the strongest that I have felt, and the hardest that I’ve been able to push myself,” Dubrow added. “But I definitely feel like there’s more to come. Hopefully next race I can dig even deeper.”
Jelley, a former coach of Toms River North High School nearby Jackson, N.J., remembered Dubrow from that recruiting trip. For a coach looking to build a program that had only recently been resurrected from a 20-year hiatus, Dubrow made a lasting impression.
“[Dubrow] was on my radar for a long time,” Jelley said. “When it got to the point that she was a senior, she was one of the first people that I wanted to go after and bring in. I knew how much of a talent she was.”
Track & field coach Eric Mobley recalls Dubrow making a similar impression when she came to visit the team for the first time.
“We try to have our recruits come and be a part of our team for a couple days and that way we can get a good vibe for them,” Mobley said. “We do that to see if this place is a good fit for her, and to see if she’s a fit for us. When [Dubrow] came on her visit, we really liked her energy. We really were excited about her, and she kind of just fit in with the program.”
Although Jelley said he had his eye set on Dubrow from as early as her sophomore year in high school, for Dubrow, it was not until her senior year when she finally started to distinguish herself as an athlete.
“I was always at least an average runner in high school,” Dubrow said. “But it really wasn’t until my senior year of high school actually that I had a really good breakthrough. That’s when I kind of realized that.”
For Jelley, bringing in Dubrow was not just a short-term solution to the team’s problems, it was a long-term one. The same way redshirt senior Travis Mahoney has influenced top level recruits for the men’s team, such as juniors Will Kellar and Phil Fanz, along with sophomores Cullen Davis and Matt Kacyon, Dubrow was brought in to play a similar role on the women’s team.
“I was trying to get one athlete that I could bring in that I knew was going to start tearing things up,” Jelley said. “One that I could point to and say, ‘Look at what she’s doing. You want to be a part of that, you want to do what she’s doing? Come on in and join us.’ [Dubrow] is absolutely that person.”
If she was brought in to play that role, according to Mobley, she’s doing her job. Dubrow has not only impressed early on in cross country, but on the track & field team as well. Her rookie campaign was spent slashing multiple school records during the indoor and outdoor seasons, concluding with a performance at the USA Junior Outdoor Championships.
“In order to get top-level athletes in recruiting, a lot of times you need top-level athletes already on your team,” Mobley said. “The better our athletes perform, the easier it is to pull some top-level recruits. We want them to have people that they can run with and inspire to be just as good as.”
Dubrow, who has competed in cross country since sixth grade, referenced Jelley as one of the deciding factors on choosing to come to Temple. His resignation and departure to the University of Maryland so close to the start of the season surprised some on the team this summer, but newly hired coach Adam Bray, who recently said “the sky is the limit” for Dubrow, has alleviated any concerns about the changeover that she may have initially had, Dubrow said.
“I feel completely comfortable with coach Bray,” Dubrow said after her most recent race. “He has been awesome for us, and made the transition go as smooth as it could possibly go. He was all over the course cheering for us today. I’m really happy with the way everything is going. Coach Bray is like a blessing in disguise. He’s great.”
With junior Anna Pavone held from the team’s first two meets due to injury, Dubrow placed 100 spots higher at the Paul Short Invitational than Temple’s next-best finisher, sophomore Chelsea Carleton.
“I think [Dubrow] leads us really well,” Carleton said. “She’s always motivated and ready to do better for herself. She’s just a really hard worker and she finishes hard in all of her workouts. She’s become a really good leader for our team.”
Although Dubrow said she still gets some pre-race nerves, she says she is much more comfortable having gone through a season of cross country and track & field. As she progresses throughout her collegiate career, Mobley said she has the talent that will enable her to evolve even further as a competitor.
“I think [Dubrow] is realizing that she can be very, very good and that she’s trying to take the necessary steps to move in that direction,” Mobley said. “The potential for her to get better is ultimately there, and she is definitely moving in that direction.”
By the time she’s a senior, Dubrow would like to see herself achieve the marks that she said “any runner would set as a goal.”
“It’s hard to say, just because I don’t know how far this is going to take me,” Dubrow said. “I’m hoping with the improvement and progression that I’m making — hopefully I’ll be at the NCAA Championships. As far as after, I have no idea. It’s kind of vague right now, but I just want to go as far as this can take me.”
Early on in her high school days, Jelley doesn’t remember Dubrow’s track statistics being extraordinary. But even then, he said, there was something special about her.
“She might not have been elite as far as her track times sophomore year,” Jelley said. “But running her race, you could tell she was a competitor.”
“You can teach kids, and you can get them stronger, and you can get them ready to compete,” Jelley added. “But you can’t teach that part. You either have it or you don’t. That’s what I was excited about watching her as a sophomore. I just said to myself the moment I watched her race, ‘That’s going to be a good one.’”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.