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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.

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.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7437 or On Twitter @ronpowell_ljs.


Sports reporter

Ron Powell is a longtime prep writer for the Journal Star. He covers high school football, boys basketball and track as well as state college football and Husker and professional tennis.

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