STANTON — Before MacKenzie Brandl was a seven-time gold medal sprinter at the state track meet. Before she was a senior all-state libero helping her Stanton volleyball team win the 2016 Class C-2 state championship. And before she developed into an all-around basketball player who could influence a game in numerous ways.
Before a high school career that climaxed with Brandl being selected the 2017 Lincoln Journal Star girls prep athlete of the year, her introduction to sports didn’t come on the track or on the court.
It came on a wrestling mat. Up until fifth grade, Brandl competed in the Stanton Broncos wrestling program, a sport that laid the groundwork for what was ahead.
“I wasn’t bad,” Brandl said when asked what kind of wrestler she was. “My dad (Dan) liked us involved (in wrestling) because he said it took our anger out. Wrestling taught me how to compete and it definitely made me tougher.
“But by fifth grade, I was done with it because I started to become a girl,” added Brandl, whose older brother, Greg, was a high school wrestler.
Brandl, a Doane track recruit, left a legacy at Burke Stadium last month by winning the Class C 100-meter dash (12.1 seconds), 200 (:25.1) and 400 (:56.85) and taking the all-class gold in the 100 and 400. Brandl never lost a 200 race in high school, winning Class C all four years at state in that event.
Her :24.4 in the 200 at districts this season is tied for fourth on the girls state all-time charts.
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Monica Arens, Crofton
5-10 | Senior | College: South Dakota (basketball)
Volleyball: A first-team Class C-2 all-stater who pounded 360 kills, put down 79 ace blocks and registered 281 digs for a Warrior team that reached the state tournament.
Basketball: Earned C-2 first-team all-state honors for a second straight year after averaging 19.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
Track: Placed second in Class C shot put at state (41-11) with her season-best being a 43-9½. Also ran a leg on Crofton’s 3,200 relay that finished third at state.
Tara Callahan, Brady
6-1 | Senior | College: Concordia (volleyball).
Volleyball: Earned first-team Class D-2 honors as a setter/hitter with 351 kills, 82 solo ace blocks, 42 ace serves, 201 digs and 226 assists, leading the Eagles to the state tournament.
Basketball: The honorable mention all-stater averaged 15.7 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game.
Track: Won the Class D girls discus and placed second in the shot put at state. Led D for the season with a 136-0 in the discus and 42-½ in the shot.
Caelyn Christiancy, Lincoln Southwest
5-6 | Junior | College: South Dakota State (softball)
Softball: The Super-State outfielder hit .419 from her leadoff position, scored 48 runs and stole 35 bases.
Basketball: Served as a back-up guard on Southwest’s Class A state championship team.
Track: Moved into eighth in the state’s all-time charts in the 100 high hurdles (:14.47) and sixth all-time in the 300 low hurdles (:43.8). Won the all-class gold medal in the 300s and took second in Class A in the 100s.
Jaden Ferguson, Lincoln Southwest
5-11 | Sophomore | College: Undecided
Volleyball: Helped lead the Silver Hawks to the Class A state tournament with a team-high 347 kills and 54 ace serves, while also contributing 262 digs and 49 ace blocks. Was a first-team all-city selection and honorable mention all-stater.
Basketball: Provided Southwest’s post presence on its state championship team, averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in garnering first-team Class A all-state honors.
Track: Placed seventh in the Class A triple jump at state (35-3¼).
Madison Jurgens, Diller-Odell
5-10 | Senior | College: South Dakota (volleyball)
Volleyball: The first-team Super-Stater did everything for the Class C-2 state runner-up Griffins, leading the team in hitting (473 kills and .437 hitting efficiency), setting (492 assists) and digs (403). Will play setter at South Dakota.
Basketball: Earned second-team all-state honors in helping Diller-Odell upset five-time defending state champion Crofton in the first round at state on its way to the finals. Averaged 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
Dariauna Lewis, Omaha North
6-0 | Junior | College: Undecided
Volleyball: Finished with 177 kills and 36 ace blocks.
Basketball: Selected second-team Super-State and first-team all-state in Class A after averaging 18 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
Track: Took second in the Class A 300 low hurdles (44.4) and fourth in the long jump (17-5 ¾) at state. Ran a leg on North’s state championship 400 relay team.
Kalynn Meyer, Superior
6-2 | Freshman | College: Undecided
Volleyball: Earned honorable mention all-state honors after 272 kills, 79 ace blocks and 166 digs last fall.
Basketball: A second-team Class C-2 all-stater after averaging 17 points and 14.2 rebounds per game.
Track: Captured the all-class gold medal in the discus by winning Class C with a throw of 158-3. Her 166-11 earlier this spring is second on the all-time girls state charts. Her 44-3¾ during the season in the shot put was the best performance in the state this spring.
Ashlyn Power, Lincoln Christian
5-8 | Senior | College: Weber State (volleyball)
Volleyball: The first-team Super-Stater was one of the most complete players in the state, leading the Crusaders to a 23-6 season with 513 assists, 224 digs and 66 ace serves. Still managed 220 kills and a .300 hitting efficiency despite being the setter in a 5-1 attack.
Basketball: Helped the Crusaders win the Class C-1 state championship by averaging 11 points, 2.7 steals and 2.7 assists as an honorable mention all-stater. Shot 50 percent from the field, 46 percent from beyond the three-point line and 84 percent at the free-throw line.
Track: Took third in both the Class C 100 (:12.4) and the 300 low hurdles (:46.1) at the state meet. Also ran a leg on Christian’s seventh-place 1,600 relay team.
Rylee Rice, Ainsworth
5-2 | Freshman | College: Undecided
Cross country: Won the Class D gold medal at state with a time of 18:34.3, more than 40 seconds ahead of the runner-up and just missing the all-class gold medal by two seconds.
Basketball: As a freshman starter, Rice averaged 3.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 steals per game.
Track: Took home four Class C gold medals in a very unique combination of events. Swept the hurdles, winning the 100 highs in :15.57 and the 300 lows in :44.85, then took first in the 800 (2:15.16, tying the C state-meet record) and the 1,600 (C state-meet record of 5:05.25).
Jessica Schlautman, Omaha Skutt
5-6 | Senior | College: Rockhurst (soccer)
Volleyball: Was the second-team Class B all-state libero after helping Skutt to a 44-0 season and second straight state title with 463 digs and 30 ace serves.
Basketball: Honorable mention all-stater who averaged 7.5 points per game.
Soccer: First-team Super-State forward who led Skutt to a Class B state title by scoring 23 goals, the final two coming in the state finals.
Anna Squiers, Kearney Catholic
6-0 | Senior| College: Nebraska-Kearney (volleyball)
Volleyball: She’ll play setter for her father, Rick, at UNK, but as a senior Class C-1 all-stater for the Stars last season, she was primarily an attacker. Finished with 386 kills (.328 hitting efficiency), 37 ace serves, 115 ace blocks, 343 digs and still managed 284 assists for the state tournament semifinalists.
Basketball: The first-team C-1 all-stater and third-team Super-Stater averaged 12.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the state runner-up Stars. Went off for 22 points and 12 rebounds in the finals against Lincoln Christian.
Track: Finished second in the Class B discus at the state meet. Her season-best throw of 146-6 was the best in B this spring.
Jaela Zimmerman, Malcolm
6-2 | Junior | College: Creighton (volleyball)
Volleyball: The honorary captain of the Super-State team propelled the Clippers to a C-1 state runner-up finish with 543 kills (.421 hitting efficiency), 314 digs, 69 ace blocks and 45 ace serves. Considered one of the top outside hitter prospects nationally in the class of 2018.
Basketball: Was a major factor in Malcolm reaching the state tournament by averaging 9.6 points per game and leading the team in rebounds (7.7 per game), steals (4.5) and assists (4.1).
Brandl learned how to run and perform under pressure at a young age. Her family owns a cattle operation and her speed became a business asset moving cows from field to field and down the road.
“My dad and my brother were always on four-wheelers and me and my sisters (Rachel and Jessie) were on foot,” MacKenzie said. “If you didn’t get to the right spot in time and get them (the cows) moved, you got yelled at. That taught me to run fast.”
Brandl’s big goal this spring was to win the 100 at state after finishing second as a sophomore and junior to Lincoln Lutheran’s Kacey Kohlhof. Her practices were geared toward achieving that objective.
“She focused on improving her starts, reaching top speed as quickly as possible and maintaining her form all the way to the end,” Stanton track coach David Ernesti said. “MacKenzie is very competitive, and those losses (in the 100) really motivated her.”
So did becoming the best libero she could be and helping the Mustangs get over the hump after losing in the Class C-2 state volleyball championship match to Hastings St. Cecilia in 2015. Stanton took the next step last November, downing Diller-Odell in the title match.
The 5-foot-5 Brandl was not a starter as a freshman or sophomore in volleyball, and she was determined to be a major contributor her final two years. As a senior, Brandl controlled the back row, popping up 613 digs and serving 45 aces.
“During open gyms in the summer, I tried to get touches (on a volleyball) every day,” said Brandl, whose younger sister, Jessie, was a starting outside hitter for the Mustangs. “I’d do drills with (assistant) Coach (Sonya) Locke, and they were really tough, but they helped make me the player I was.”
Stanton volleyball coach Tracy Kuester said Brandl had numerous opportunities to play college volleyball if she had decided to go that route.
“Kenzie’s a phenomenal libero and a great team leader,” said Kuester.
“Her work ethic sets her apart,” Kuester added. “She never settled for where she was at and she was always striving to improve. She knew if she did her job, the rest of the team would look good.”
Brandl was the point guard for Stanton’s 19-5 girls basketball team, averaging 12.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 steals and 4.5 assists per game.
She had a knack for knocking down long-range buzzer-beaters this season. Brandl hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to end the half in a regular-season win over Battle Creek, then came back in the same game with a basket from beyond half-court to end the third quarter.
Shooting, however, was not her best asset on the basketball court.
“Her speed defensively caused havoc for opponents,” Stanton girls basketball coach Greg Wegner said. “She was a very aggressive player who created a lot of things for us as a point guard offensively. Even though she was only 5-5, she wasn’t afraid to mix it up inside and drive it to the basket. She knew when to finish herself or kick it out to a teammate for an open shot.”
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