By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
MANKATO — Senior Kelsey Ekstedt of Mankato East is what many coaches would refer to as a “proven commodity.”
It doesn’t matter what sport she’s playing, coaches know they’re going to get her 100 percent best effort every time out. Whether it’s tending goal in soccer, playing defense on the hockey team or competing in track, Ekstedt always finds a way to be a major player.
Head girls track coach Neil Paarmann says Ekstedt not only proved her value to the team last season, she did so again last week in the team’s opener.
“We entered her in four events and she placed in all of them,” Paarmann said. “That’s a lot of team points. We expect to have her in four events almost every meet — she’s that good.”
Ekstedt’s best event is probably the 300-meter hurdles. She was honorable mention All-Big Nine in that event last year. She also does the 100-meter hurdles, some sprint relays and the triple jump.
One of Ekstedt’s goals for this spring is to qualify for state in the 300 hurdles. The senior, who is in her sixth year on the track team, believes that is her strongest event.
“She’s well-suited for it,” Paarmann said. “She’s taller and stronger than she was last year and that lends itself to being a good hurdler. If she sets her mind to it I don’t doubt it can be done.”
Ekstedt has signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., this fall to continue her soccer career. The All-City goaltender plans to major in exercise science with an emphasis in cardiac rehab.
The Cougar track team finished ninth in the Big Nine a year ago and coach Paarmann is looking for major improvement. In addition to Ekstedt, the team returns Kjersten Parsons, Judy Kamara, Claire Ziegler and Taylor Karge. All should be significant point scorers.
Paarmann said Rochester Century and Rochester Mayo are probably the top two favorites to win the conference. As for the section, the goal is always to advance as many people to state as possible.
Ekstedt could be one of those state qualifiers. Thursday she delivered a runner-up effort in the 55 high hurdles (9.38), a second-place in the 4x200 relay (1:57.71), a third place in the 55 low hurdles (9.74) and won the triple jump at 31-feet-7.5. Her effort helped East to the team championship with 133 points at Minnesota State’s Bud Myers Field House.
The Cougars started fast as Kjersten Parsons, Andrea Nett, Erica Ellstrom and Ivy Glade delivered a time of 10:53 to win the opening 4x800-meter relay.
Ziegler also had a win for East in the high jump with a leap of 4-feet-10. Nett won the 3,200 meters in 13:15.
Blue Earth Area’s Taylor Grandgenett won the 55 high hurdles with a time of 9.24 and the 55 low hurdles in 9.32. The Bucs’ foursome of Anne Franta, Miranda Johnson, Paige Darrington and Skylee Bell finished first in the 4x200 relay in 1:56.06.
Also winning for BEA were Kaitlyn Olsen in the open 400 meters (1:02.77), Krista Hassing in the 800 meters (2:24.35) and Franta in the 200 meters (28.33).
BEA also won the final event of the night. Taylor Johnson, Karli Olsen, Kaitlyn Olsen and Krista Hassing recorded a time of 4:16.5 in the 4x400 relay.
WEM’s Lily Anderson was first in the 55-meter dash in 7.34 and teammate Brooke Galler won the pole vault at 8-feet even. The Bucs’ Tierney Winter was first in both the 1,600 meters (5:44) and the long jump (16-feet-1).
Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial/Nicollet’s Alayna Thiessen captured the shot put with a heave of 35-feet-5.