Eagan track and field: Sweating the small stuff

  • Article by: AARON PAITICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 22, 2014 - 5:03 PM

Girls’ track and field offers “one of the best teams ever at Eagan High School,” its coach says, but details matter.

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Maddie Gourley of Eagan, right, returns for her sophomore season after receiving all-state honors last season in the 100, 200 and 400.

Photo: Photos by Chris Gourley • Special to the Star Tribune,

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It’s all about the little things. That’s what Eagan girls’ track and field is stressing. The athletes are doing a mighty fine job of taking care of those things, their coach says.

The Wildcats are taking countless steps to get the most out of practice sessions. This is critical for such a short season that’s almost always made shorter because of inclement weather.

For example, despite the weather, the sprinters, jumpers and hurdlers have already had a handful of workouts outside this spring. They’ve been prepared.

“Every one of these athletes has been dressed and ready to have a great session,” Graham said. “Sweat bottoms, tights and sweatshirts all set. Our distance kids show up every day prepared for the conditions. Many times, missing practice gear can wreck a workout.”

The girls are proving that it’s possible to work hard while having fun. Graham believes this will pay dividends down the line.

“The girls love to socialize, but they know when that stops and the training begins,” Graham said. “The payoff for high track IQ are the gains we’ve seen in just over one week.”

Eagan is the defending Class 2A, Section 3 champion. The Wildcats finished in third place in the South Suburban Conference and fourth at the state meet. Conference rivals Lakeville South and Prior Lake both finished ahead of the Wildcats in the Class 2A state meet, so they’re no strangers to high-level competition on a weekly basis.

The good news? They were young then, and they still are. But they also have a veteran presence with all the intangibles that make for a successful squad.

“Great mentoring is a key factor, too,” Graham said. “The veterans know what to do and share the message with our first-year athletes. Leading is part of their responsibility, but we need them to lead in the right way.”

The Wildcats finished fourth in the state meet 4x800-meter relay last spring. They return all four members of that relay — juniors Anna Van Wyk and Kelli Praska, senior Raissa Hansen and sophomore Olivia Mitchell.

Sophomore Maddie Gourley, after making a strong impression as a freshman last year, could be a star in the making. Gourley finished eighth in the 100-meter dash last spring. Her preliminary time at state would have been good enough for third place.

Gourley also finished eighth in the 400. Gourley was all-state in the 100, 200 and 400. Senior Emerald Egwim was just two spots behind in fifth place. Egwim, a senior captain, returns to the sprints, relays and jumps. She was all-state in the 200.

Another rising young athlete is eighth-grader Natalie Windels. As a seventh-grader last spring, Windels placed seventh in the 300-meter hurdles with a 45.97-second time and won all-state honors. Captains Tamira McLemore and Shivani Shrikanth will look to make some noise in the jumps.

“We are very optimistic moving into our season,” Graham said. “All early indications are that we have one of the best teams ever at Eagan High School.”

That being said, six of the top 10 teams in last year’s state meet are from the South Suburban.

“We know that we have a very talented team but also know that we only need to travel a few miles down the road to find another excellent team,” Graham said. “Maximal development of our talent pool will be crucial.”

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  • Eighth-grader Natalie Windels placed seventh in the 300-meter hurdles at state last season for Eagan.

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