A reporter entering an interview with Derek and Taylor Wiebke, brother and sister track and field athletes for the Gophers, is advised to have at hand a full list of their accomplishments.
You aren’t going to get much assistance from these successful collegians when it comes to offering self-serving tributes.
“The humility you get from Derek and Taylor … it’s 100 percent genuine,” said Erik Myran, formerly a track and field coach at Kasson-Mantorville High School. “They always came off as best friends, even more than brother and sister.”
Derek was two years older and graduated from Kasson-Mantorville in 2013. Taylor was in the Class of ’15.
This week, we sat in a conference room at the Bierman Building for 45 minutes and I pressed that issue. Brother and sister, two years apart. There had to be a couple of memorable squabbles.
“Not really,” Taylor said. “We got along great.”
Derek nodded and said: “Always.”
“Same with teammates and classmates,” Myran said. “They were fantastic KoMets.”
There was one suspicious difference detected in looking at the siblings’ athletic bios on gophersports.com. Derek lists his hometown as Kasson, Minn.; Taylor lists her hometown as Mantorville, Minn.
You’re pranking us, right? This is an inside joke about two villages that forever have been joined at the hip.
“Actually, we moved from a Kasson address, to a place out in the country with a Mantorville address, between my graduation and Taylor’s,” Derek said.
Derek runs the 800 and 1,500 meters (and an occasional mile) for the Gophers, as well as cross-country. Last week, he was named the winner of a Gophers award as the male breakthrough athlete for the 2016-17 athletic year. This was a high standard when considering the university’s female breakthrough athlete was Sarah Wilhite, who also was the national player of the year in volleyball.
Wiebke was the winner of the mile run in the Big Ten indoor meet in late February with a time of 4 minutes, 1.85 seconds. He also finished second in the 600 and 800 meters and was part of a runner-up distance medley relay team.
“Derek reminded me that I told him as a senior, in June, it was OK for him to walk on,” Gophers coach Steve Plasencia said. “We held off the decision until after the high school season to give him a spot. For him to take that and four years later to be a Big Ten champion speaks for itself.”
Two years ago, Wiebke was simply hoping to get back to running again. He ran a 4:07 mile in late February in the 2015 Big Ten indoor meet, then opened the outdoor schedule with a strong 1:52 at 800 meters.
Late in March, he felt chest pains and nausea during a workout. When it happened a second time, the Gophers sent him to the University of Minnesota clinics.
“As an athlete here, you have some of the best medical people there are a couple of blocks away,” Derek said. “The doctors discovered I had a heart condition: Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.”
The condition interferes with the electrical system of the heart. There was tissue removed in surgery and Wiebke was running again within a couple of weeks.
Derek’s pal and sister, Taylor, arrived in the fall of 2015 as a high jumper. Asked about her time at Kasson-Mantorville, Taylor did mention a fainting goat named Phil that she was given by a high school coach. She neglected to report she holds the state high jump record.
Taylor was a junior for the KoMets in 2014 when she cleared 5-11 in the high jump at the sectional Class 2A True Team meet in Winona. Three years later, that remains the high jump record for a woman athlete in any Minnesota prep event.
Wiebke set a Gophers record last month, clearing 6 feet, ¾ inch in winning the Longhorn Invitational in Austin, Texas. She was third in the Big Ten indoor and will be facing that competition in this weekend’s Big Ten outdoor meet at Penn State.
Taylor is something of a novelty as a top-flight high jumper, standing only 5-8. She was in a national high school event in Oregon, with a collection of girls who were 6 feet and taller.
“My mom has a photo of me with the other high jumpers,” Taylor said. “There’s all the tall girls and then little me.”
Wiebke overcomes the lack of height with a faster run to the bar. “Taylor had a talent for the high jump right out of the gate,” Myran said. “She has that explosive last step … that’s what separates her from others.”
One more detail: What about Phil the goat?
Taylor actually has two goats, mostly in the care of younger sister Tiana, but Phil has seniority, and a honored name after “Modern Family” character Phil Dunphy. He’s a pygmy goat of the breed that faints when excited or alarmed.
“He is so funny,” Taylor said. “Phil faints when you start feeding him, he’s so happy.”
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. email@example.com