LEZLIE STERLING / lsterling@sacbee.com

Kendal Nielsen of Bear River took up the triple jump three years ago on a whim and is now among the state's best.

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  • GIRLS

    MADELEINE ANKHELYI, Vista del Lago

    The Eagles junior is the Sac-Joaquin Section leader in the 1,600 meters (4:56.20) and 3,200 (10:34.72); she's last season's section Masters 1,600 champion.

    LAWRE'LL DOBBINS, Foothill

    The two-time defending Masters high jump champ is No. 2 in the section as a senior with a season-best jump of 5 feet, 4 inches.

    NIA DORNER, Rosemont

    The junior has the state's top time and 17th-best nationally in 400 meters (55.23). The defending 200 Masters champ has section-best 24.78 in that event.

    ESTHER HIGGWE, Monterey Trail

    The senior anchors the Mustangs' state No. 9 4x100-meter relay team (47.63); she's the section leader in the 100 (12.00).

    MELISSA MANEATIS, Del Oro

    Freshman section pole vault tri-leader at 11-6 is the latest in a long line of outstanding area girl vaulters.

    BOYS

    LONDEEN McCOVERY, Cosumnes Oaks

    The senior's season-best high jump of 6-8 ranks No. 1 in the section and No. 5 in the state.

    AUSTIN MITSCH, Jesuit

    Junior sprinter is the section leader in the 100 (10.74) and 200 (21.97) and is the defending D-I section 100 champion.

    JORDAN RUSHING, Del Campo

    The senior has the section's top time in the 3,200 (9:23.56) and is the defending 1,600 Masters champ.

    DOUGLAS VERNON-SCOTT, Folsom

    The senior placed second in the triple jump at the Stanford Invitational with a personal-best leap of 45-10 3/4.

    CASEY WHEELER, Del Oro

    The senior is the defending D-II section champion and current section leader in the 300 hurdles (38.63) and No. 2 in the 110 highs (14.49).

Bear River's Nielsen nears her ambitious 20/40 goal

Published: Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 8C
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012 - 9:07 pm

It's a most unorthodox way that Bear River's 21st Sac-Joaquin Section championship banner – and first in track and field – came to hang in its Lake of the Pines gym.

In the section's Division II-III championship meet last May at Bella Vista, then-junior Kendal Nielsen won the long and triple jumps and placed fourth in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

She scored all 28 of her team's points.

It wasn't until later that night that she realized she had single-handedly beaten 20 other D-III girls teams.

"I had no idea it was even possible for one person to win a team title," Nielsen said.

She was handed the section banner a week later at an impromptu ceremony at the Masters meet at Elk Grove High.

But it never crossed Nielsen's mind to just take the blue-and-white triangular felt banner and hang it somewhere prominently at home.

"I won it for my school," Nielsen said. "I love representing my school, and I like seeing that banner in the gym and knowing that it's our first in track."

That's Kendal Nielsen, says Bear River athletic director Duwaine Ganskie.

Modest almost to a fault, she's a gifted athlete and superlative student. With her blond ponytail and 5-foot-7, 118-pound frame, Nielsen looks more like a distance runner than one of California's top female high school jumpers.

"What she did is pretty amazing," said Ganskie, a longtime basketball coach for the school. "It's probably happened before, but I've never heard of anyone around here doing what she did.

"But what's striking to me is that, around campus, Kendal is such an ordinary, nice kid. Until she gets on the track. Then you see the beast come out in her."

Michael Reid noticed the same trait when he first saw Nielsen at an all-comers meet at Natomas High two summers ago.

The American River College assistant coach was working the triple jump pit when Nielsen, a former gymnast and a solid but unspectacular sprinter, decided to give the triple jump a try on a whim.

On her first jump, she cleared just over 34 feet – which would have easily won the Pioneer Valley League championship a few weeks earlier.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Reid said. "I'm measuring 34 feet, one-half inch, and she's telling me she's never (triple) jumped in her life. This was not normal. It was rather shocking."

Nielsen was taken aback by Reid's initial reaction.

"I felt completely uncoordinated, and then there's Michael flipping out, going crazy. He's telling me he'd love to have the chance to train me, that he could get me to the state meet."

An incredulous Nielsen took Reid's business card, but it would be months before she took up his offer.

It turned into the perfect melding – Nielsen's unwavering work ethic and dedication combined with Reid's infectious enthusiasm and constant encouragement during their rigorous training sessions at ARC.

Nielsen has progressed so well that in addition to rewriting Bear River and PVL records in the jumps and sprints, she has won nine league titles and three D-III section titles.

In February, she signed a national letter of intent to compete for Cal Poly. Nielsen has an interest in journalism, a 4.2 grade-point average and hopes to pursue a degree in environmental science.

She's also closing in on the ultimate goal that Reid set for her three years ago: Crack the 20-foot long jump and 40-foot triple jump barriers before heading to college.

Nielsen is getting close.

She had a personal-best 39-5 triple jump April 7 at the Arcadia Invitational, the fourth-best mark in the state and ninth best in the nation this season. Eight days ago, she long jumped a section-best 19 feet, 3 1/2 inches, more than a foot beyond her previous best.

"Twenty/40 seemed an unreal goal three years ago," Nielsen said. "Now it doesn't seem so ridiculous."

Barring an injury or some unforeseen circumstance, Nielsen will have several more shots at 20/40, including Saturday's Meet of Champions at ARC, the Masters championship May 24-25 at Elk Grove High and the CIF State Track and Field Championships on June 1-2 in Clovis (where she was unable to reach the finals in either of her specialties last season).

Another single-handed D-III section team title repeat is not a goal.

"Even though I'm having a better season, that's not an expectation," Nielsen said. "I'm just going to do what I always do – try to do the best I can."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Bill Paterson



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