Laughing to the finish
Having a potential division recruit on a team can be both beneficial and rewarding to a coach. Imagine having four.
That is the pleasant dilemma Cross Country and Track Distance Coach Jeff Morris and Varsity Track Head Coach Mike Peterson have had to belabor with seniors Abby Anderson, Shayla Fulford, Maddie McClellan and Holly Sheets.
"I have been coaching all four in cross country and track since 7th grade and also had them in 5th and 6th grade," Morris said. "I cannot believe how fast it has gone."
Anderson is a recruited walk-on at the University of Minnesota where her sister Gabriele has been a standout.
"I grew up watching my sister run there and have always dreamed of being a Gopher girl. She has been a huge inspiration." Anderson said.
Fulford and Sheets will be attending South Dakota State University on partial athletic scholarships. Both girls kiddingly blame the other for following the same path to SDSU.
Sheets is attending SDSU for the running program athletically and the nursing program academically. Both girls also noted their choice was aided in their affinity for Jackrabbit's Coach Rod DeHaven.
"Holly is a great leader and did a great job at rounding up everyone in the summer to run," Fulford said. "I am lucky to be going on to another team with her and look forward to all of the great times together."
"The most amazing thing is how hard these girls worked during the season and in the summer," Morris said.
According to Morris, McClellan is on almost a full-ride with athletic, academic and other scholarships to North Dakota State University. Once there, she will team up with former Yellowjacket running mate Brittany Gigstead.
"I like the Fargo area and the coach; he seems pretty chill," McClellan said. "A few of my teammates go there and love it."
All four Yellowjackets have numerous section, state and all-state accolades.
Anderson was a member of the 2006 4x800 relay state championship and state runner-up in the 1600m run.
Fulford was part of two-second place state team finishes.
McClellan's state record finishes in cross country show yearly improvements ranging from 36th place in 2005, 6th in 2006, 4th in 2007, 3rd in 2008 and the state title in 2009.
Sheets is a five-time state cross country participant and also teamed with Anderson on the 2006 4x800 state championship.
All conference, all section, all state decorations are simply expected with this foursome, as are conference and section championships.
"Between these four girls there is tons of hardware, but the hard work has always been the goal and has made it an incredible journey. I am going to miss them and look forward to seeing what they contribute to their college teams. These are the kind of athletes you can build a team around, because they know how to put their team before themselves," said Morris.
Competing at the state level is something every high school athlete aspires to and the group has gotten much in the way of experience, enjoyment and entertainment from their frequent trips.
"It's been an awesome experience with my team," McClellan said.
"I have so many good memories," said Sheets.
"It was amazing to be on the line and running the race with all my awesome teammates," Fulford said.
"It's a great reward for all the hard work and energy put into the preparation to be able to compete at state and a great opportunity to compete against the best," said Anderson.
On the track and off, the girls have fun together and are all very close friends.
"They are crazy!" Sheets said of the other three. "We never stop laughing. I am going to miss them. I love dancing with them on the bus."
There are other times in life and in sport that warrant a different type of need from friends. Sheets noted, they have always supported me through my struggles and helped me improve at being a better person and a better runner.
Humor is a defining tangent when the girls get talking about and poking a little fun at each other.
"Maddie is the most relaxed," Fulford said. "Abby has to be one of the funniest people I know and Holly would be the loudest of us all."
Anderson said, Madball (McClellan) is the only girl who can get away with drinking Red Bull and eating Skittles all day, staying up all night and still run like a beast.
"Abby has a laugh like no other," McClellan said. "Shayla just makes me smile and Holly, she's nuts. But I love her and am so proud of who she's become."
The girls seem to have it all square when it comes to tempering the heat of competition with a positive mindset, which denotes obvious influence from their coaching staff.
All four have rave reviews for Coach Morris.
"He taught us so much about making it about the team and that it's about the journey," McClellan said.
"Coach Morris and Hurdles Coach Kay Morris have made a huge impact on me as a person," Fulford said. "They taught me to never regret working hard."
Anderson sites a Morris quote he gave her right before running her state 1600m run.
"Beat the people you now you can beat. Beat the people who are just as good as you because you ran a smarter race and beat the people who are better than you because you ran a smart race and they ran a stupid race."
Whether in humor, life, friendship or running, there appear to be many smart races in the future for these four.