It’s a common feeling, the one Molly Kahl is experiencing right now as she prepares for today’s WIAA Division 2 track and field state championships at UW-La Crosse.
Every senior experiences it at some point or another. It’s inescapable.
“It’s kind of crazy to think that this is my last high school meet — just going into it knowing that this is the last time I’m going to compete in any high school sport is crazy,” she said.
If all goes as planned, the last time will also be the best.
The star athlete for Columbus is seeded second in the long jump and sixth in the triple jump, both spots that, if her seed holds, would land her on the podium.
But more than that, she’s going for the school record in both.
Kahl’s mark in the long jump of 18 feet, 4¼ inches at last Thursday’s sectional meet is just shy of the record mark of 18-6 set by 2005 graduate Heather Miller her junior year.
In the triple jump, Kahl posted a mark of 36-½, which isn’t quite as close to Miller’s record mark of 37-9½ but is in the neighborhood nonetheless.
Miller, by the way, went on to compete in the heptathlon for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
And while Kahl hasn’t chased her down in the school record books as of yet, she did eclipse Miller in the Deerfield Classic record books on June 4.
Kahl’s success is owed to the right mix of God-given ability and her own work ethic.
“She works hard at what she does, but along with that comes a great deal of athletic talent,” Columbus coach Marlin Hensler said. “Molly can jump. Certain kids have springs on them, and Molly’s got some of those.”
Seeded first in the long jump today is Appleton Xavier’s Kylie McCormick, who had a mark of 18-7 at sectionals.
First in the triple jump is Ripon’s Celina Lopez with a mark of 36-11½.
Kahl knows she’s got some work to do in order to catch those two, but she also knows she’s capable.
“I think I’m just a lot more confident in what I do,” she said of how big a benefit her experience as an underclassman — no junior year because of the COVID-19 pandemic — has been to her this season. “I know what I’m doing. I’m not necessarily nervous going into anything, so I guess it’s just the confidence aspect of it.”
She won’t be alone today in La Crosse, either.
Joining her on the girls side from Columbus are the 4x400 relay team and the 4x800 relay, and on the boys side senior Austin Rennhack has made the trip.
Rennhack advanced in the discus and is seeded ninth with his mark of 139-10 at sectionals.
But it was windy and stormy in Whitewater last Thursday, conditions that hampered his chances at a better throw.
Today might go much better.
It might not, too. But it might — because Rennhack has the potential.
“I think he does have a chance to get on the podium,” Hensler said. “If he throws 150, I think he’s right in the mix. And he has every ability to do that. He’s been in the 140s — he’s been as high as 148 this year.”
West Salem’s Nathan Gribble is the favorite by a good margin, with a throw at sectionals of 159-2 that’s almost 7 feet better than the second-seeded mark of 152-3 turned in by Nekoosa’s Logan Cleary.
But only two others have seed throws in the 150s, and the sixth-seeded throw is 146-6. So Rennhack is definitely in the conversation.
The two Cardinals relay teams are seeded well outside the top six, but there’s still plenty at stake — especially for the 4x800, which won at regionals with a time of 10 minutes, 11.63 seconds to break the school record of 10:13 set in 2007.
Sophomore Jaiden Dornaus, juniors Emma Paulson and Aurora Pennington and sophomore Maya Pearcy would sure like to break it one more time after a so-so time of 10:20.86 at sectionals.
“It was their first sectional meet, first chance to go to state, and I think they were a bit nervous,” Hensler said of the fact it’s a foursome that skews younger. “They came through still and made it, but they didn’t run their best race at sectional. I think they’re looking forward to running their best race at state.”
In the 4x400, Grace Kahl filled in for her sister Molly at sectionals after Molly finished up with her jumps and the 4x200 because Molly was feeling under the weather.
No problem. Grace joined Dornaus, Pennington and Pearcy to make it through to state.
Better yet for Grace, she earned herself a spot in place of Molly today.
“We’re going to go with Grace at the state meet and let her have an opportunity. She was the one that got to run it to qualify so we’re going to leave her in there,” Hensler said. “Molly’s just going to focus on the two jumps and is pretty excited about that I think.”
She is, indeed.
“I’m not upset. I’m really excited for her, actually,” Molly said. “I’m glad she got the opportunity. It worked out well.”
However it works out for Molly today — will she break one record? Both records? No records? Will she win a state title? — she will no matter finish as this season’s torch bearer for a Columbus track and field program that’s had an awful lot of success over the last two decades.