TRUMAN Kelly Brandon, a recent graduate of the College of Saint Benedict in Collegeville, didn't think that becoming a head coach would happen so quickly. Now, she is trying to learn the ropes.
In her first year as a head coach, Brandon is leading both the Madelia/Truman/ Martin Luther Jayhawks boys and girls cross country teams this fall.
"When I was in college for my teaching degree, I always thought that someday I'd also be a coach," said Brandon. "I didn't think that it would happen so fast, so it's been a learning curve so far this season."
STRETCHING OUT — Madelia/Truman/Martin Luther first-year head cross country coach Kelly Brandon (left) leads her Jayhawk runners through stretching exercises during practice on Thursday in Truman. The recent College of Saint Benedict graduate and Winona native is getting acclimated to her new coaching and teaching duties. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
After running both track and cross country in high school in Winona, Brandon took her racing skills to the College of Saint Benedict, where she continued to compete in both sports for the Blazers.
Now, in addition to her coaching duties, Brandon also has been trying to learn about the area and setting up a new routine in her classroom as a first-year teacher.
"I'm from Winona originally, and went to high school there. So it has been a lot to take in with everything, but all the communities have been really supportive and helpful, so it's been great," said Brandon.
Part of the new experiences and changes has been the combination of schools for sports, with Madelia and Truman combining with Martin Luther for the Jayhawks cross country season.
"It has been kind of tough to learn all the different school combinations, and the different names of them," said Brandon. "There weren't really as many combinations when I played, but here there is Truman as the Bluejays and with Granada-Huntley-East Chain as the Jaguars for football and then we are the Jayhawks. It was confusing at first."
The new coach now seems to be hitting her stride as the Jayhawks season nears the midway point. Brandon also has worked with her young team to set goals for the season that are achievable.
"When I got here, they told me that they had graduated a lot of really good seniors, and so we are very young," said Brandon. "Early on in the season, I wanted our runners to set individual goals for times and what they hoped to accomplish, but I also want them to enjoy the season and have fun."
The Jayhawks graduated Cade Ekstrom and Ricki Fenske, who raced to respective 27th- and 99th-place finishes at the Class A state cross country meet last fall, in addition to losing coach Pete Goeringer - who took a new job in a neighboring school district during the offseason.
This season, with the help of athletes like Samantha Maul, Alissa Voyles, Hanna Geistfeld and Noah Frelich, Brandon has started to work to rebuild the strength of the Jayhawks running program.
"For our girls team, we only have two seniors, but Samantha Maul was really excited about the season before it started and has been our top girl so far," said Brandon. "Alissa Voyles and Hanna Geistfeld have shown great leadership so far this season for us, and work hard every day."
With extra challenges, like making workout programs for both genders, Brandon also splits her time with the boys team.
"Noah Frelich has been the boys top runner and we only have eight runners, so it's been a struggle, but he has had a wonderful attitude and works really hard each day at practice," said Brandon.
With small numbers of athletes for both teams, Brandon knows that winning might not be the focus for the program this season.
"This season we've talked as a team and we know that the best way we have a chance to do well is to focus on individually improving," said Brandon. "But as a coach, I want to make sure that everyone is also enjoying each other and the season. I hope that we can develop as runners this season, but developing as people is just an important, too, and I try to help them do both."
The Jayhawks and their new mentor will literally take to the road again by competing in the St. James Invitational at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the St. James Country Club golf course.