UDM - Women's Cross Country Making An Impact 30 Years Later

UDM - Women's Cross Country Making An Impact 30 Years Later

Provided by UDM

DETROIT (9/10/2014) -- Alums are the lifeblood of athletic programs. Game day support, donations and overall allegiances are the main opportunities, but there are numerous ways in which you can show your school pride and for two members of the original Titan women's cross country team of 1984, their biggest gift might be 30 years in the making.

Welcome freshmen Ben Kendell and Jenny Ponkowski of the University of Detroit Mercy men's and women's cross country program. Both runners have proven to be big assets so far on the course in their first two collegiate races and both have something else in common – their mothers were on the first Titan women's cross country team in 1984.


From L-R: Head coach Guy Murray '89, Michelle Kendell,

Ben Kendell and Jerry Vogt.

"It was a real honor to be a part of the very first team," said Michelle Kendell as she came out to see her son run in his first collegiate race at Oakland before heading back home to Italy. "It was almost like a sorority and I had some of my best friends that were also on the team so it was a very special time."

"I had never run as a sport in my life and coach Kevin Donner let me walk on the team and it was life changing," said Nancy Ponkowski as she came out to see her daughter and her alma mater at the 28th Annual Running Fit-Detroit Titan Invitational. "It was just a great experience and that led me to coaching for 10 years in grade school and I probably wouldn't have had that opportunity without joining the cross country team."

Michelle Kendell – then known as Michelle Vogt – was a four-year letter winner, an All-MCC runner and a member of two MCC championship teams from 1984-87, while Nancy Ponkowski – the former Nancy Drolshagen – was a senior walk-on for the inaugural Titans in 1984.

"I remember Michelle didn't have a big time high school resume," said former Titan coach and current Bucknell head coach Kevin Donner. "She ran for a good state championship team and she wanted to run for us and showed a lot of interest and every year she improved and became an All-Conference runner. Nancy was just a year or two younger then me since she was a senior and I just graduated and she was the spokesman for a team that was very young with six or seven freshmen on the roster."

The Ponkowski tradition of attending Detroit goes back a bit further then just 1984. Jenny's dad, Tim, was a member of the tennis team in the 1980's, she has three brothers and a sister, an uncle and a couple of cousins who all graduated from the University. Even her great grandfather graduated and played football for the Titans in the late 1950's and her great, great, great grandfather attended the University in the late 1800's.


From L-R: Jenny Ponkowski, Kevin Donner, Nancy Ponkowski

The Kendells also had two other student athletes in the family represent the red, white and blue as Ben's dad, William, was a varsity fencer, and his uncle, Jerry, was a member of the Titan track and field and cross country team.

"I came to Detroit to run and I remember coach Kevin Donner recruiting me," said Michelle Kendell. "I remember doing two-a-day workouts and all the training and it was really intense in the beginning. It was a real honor and I love telling people that I was part of the first cross country team."

"I graduated early in December as a senior and I was offered a small scholarship to stay and run during law school, but I just couldn't do it. It was a lot of work and even my senior year, I was working full time, but I had a lot of fun being on the team," added Ponkowski.

Following in the family footsteps can sometimes be hard on a student athlete, but both parents know that, while they want the best for their child on the course, the most important place they have to succeed is the classroom and having an education from Detroit will prepare them for the future.

"The academics is what makes Detroit great," said Nancy Ponkowski. "She is in a great program in the 5-year PA program and I have a son in the seven-year dental program and the bottom line is that you have to go out there and get a job and have a career and Detroit prepares you for life."

When asked how many of her college stories she has shared with her son it was an easy answer for the former All-MCC harrier.

"Not so many," said a laughing Michelle Kendell. "The thing I remember the most is the traveling and being part of a team. I remember the meets at Notre Dame and in Indianapolis at Butler. Those were some great races and some great times."