Fruitful move: Venture to Indiana pays off for Republic Girls Cross-Country Runner of Year

After a modest first year in cross-country and on the Southern California circuit, Julia Kiesler saw her second season wiped out by the COVID pandemic.

But Kiesler didn’t stop running. In fact, she trained even harder.

So when Kiesler moved to Columbus with her family in the summer of 2021, she literally got started. She helped Columbus North win a cross-country state title as a junior last fall.

“I was very motivated to run, even though we didn’t have any training,” said Kiesler. “I got up every morning before school and ran with my dad. He would cycle next to me. I just had very big goals. I saw my teammates and what they were doing and that they were going to college and I wanted to do that.

This fall, Kiesler had an even bigger senior season. She finished fourth in the state finals and is The Republic Girls’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year.

“It was very different when COVID hit California and the team just fell apart,” Kiesler said. “The weather here is different for running, and in California, the state meet, there are different divisions. You don’t run up against the whole state like you do here. At the national meeting here, you compete against everyone who qualifies, which is really cool.”

Kiesler’s father, Frank, ran cross-country and track at Floyd Central, so the family was familiar with Indiana. When the state of California was reluctant to return to in-person school last fall, they decided to move back east.

“We actually just moved to get me back to school,” Julia said. “I didn’t do well with online learning and couldn’t see friends.”

The Kieslers looked at Floyd Central, Carmel, Zionsville and Columbus North last summer before deciding to sign Julia up with North.

“I just liked Columbus best,” she said. “I spoke to the coaches and coach (Rick) Sluder really excelled and the team really excelled. It was really good that I moved here. I don’t think I would have gotten to this point if it wasn’t for Lily (Baker) and Coach Sluder (teammate and classmate). Lily really helps me push myself and get excited and everything.”

Baker and Kiesler went back and forth as the Bull Dogs’ top runners last season. Baker had an equally good season that year, but Kiesler ran even faster times than as a junior.

“I was very happy with my season,” said Kiesler. “Last season I struggled with a bit of nausea and last year it was a lot colder so the weather was a lot nicer for me this year. I’m really glad I was more consistent. It was a good senior year.”

“Their consistency and overall performance was just amazing,” added Sluder. “It was amazing guiding us from start to finish.”

Kiesler estimates her first 5K time in her freshman year in California to be around 21 minutes.

“I had a normal first year just trying to figure out what it’s like to run,” Kiesler said. “I was really nervous, but I was at my old school in varsity and competing in state competitions. I think I remember my first 5K so I’ve improved a lot since then.”

Much of this improvement came during her sophomore year when she was unable to compete. But that improvement has continued throughout her two years with the Bull Dogs.

“Last year she was only here a few days when we left for camp,” Sluder said. “She’s been here for a year now and she’s also had her track season so it’s helped a lot. Her training has also increased a lot and that gave her a lot of confidence going into every race.”

Kiesler broke North’s school record and Brown County’s Eagle Park course record by timing the 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) in 17 minutes and 28 seconds. She broke those records again, winning the Brown County Semistate in 17:17.3.

“That was one of my goals and I knew I could do it,” said Kiesler. “It was just a matter of conditions and courses. On some tracks you just can’t run that fast because of the hills.”

“I think one of the things that sums up her season for me, all the races that ran in Brown County, all the girls that ran there, she broke that course record twice in the same year,” Sluder added. “It just tells me what a good season she’s had.”

At state, Kiesler ran 17:36.4 on a LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, which is slightly more difficult than the Brown County Course. Her fourth place finish took the Bull Dogs to second place on the team and earned her the honor of Class 4A Runner of the Year from the Indiana Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches.

“I was really looking forward to it,” said Kiesler. “It was higher than I thought I could do. I just kept going and ended up higher than I thought.”

“It’s probably one of the best women’s fields of all time,” added Sluder. She definitely ran against the best high school runner Indiana has ever had in (Bishop Chatard’s) Lily Cridge, and that she finished fourth in that field is remarkable. Coach (Rick) Weinheimer and I would talk about the history of the program and she turned out to be one of the best runners North has ever had.”

Kiesler plans to continue her running career at the collegiate level. She has visited Boise State, is planning a visit to Utah, and has spoken with Indiana University, the state of Iowa, and a few other schools.

Currently, Kiesler and her teammates are training for next weekend’s Running Lane Nationals, which are being held in Alabama. Then it’s on to the track season, where she will look to improve on her sixth place finish in the 3,200 meters.

“I think I can break another record for the 3,200, and I want to be part of the 4×800 team (relay),” Kiesler said. “I don’t think I’m that strong at the shorter distances, but I really want to be a part of this team and help them win states.”

The Republic All-Area Girls Cross Country Team:

Julia Kiesler, Columbus North: The senior won regional and semi-state titles and finished fourth in the state.

Lily Baker, Columbus North: The senior finished third in the section, second in the regional and semi-state championships, and ninth in the state championship.

Brianna Newell, Columbus North: The senior won the sections and finished third in the regional championship, seventh in the semi-state and 32nd in the state.

Ellen White, Columbus North: The senior finished fifth in the section, fourth in the regional league, 24th in the semi-state and 103rd in the state.

Julie Klaus, Columbus North: The senior finished seventh in the section, seventh in the regional league, 49th in the semi-state and 92nd in the state.

Sydney Morlok, Columbus North: The senior finished ninth in the section, 15th in the regional championship, 37th in the semi-state championship and 110th in the state championship.

Ainsley Sherlock, Columbus North: The freshman finished 10th in the section and 96th in the state.

Jessica Meza, Columbus North: The senior finished 11th in the regional and 39th in the semi-state.

Hadley Gradolf, Brown County: The senior finished fourth in the section, fifth in the regional league, 10th in semistate and 69th in the state.

Award

Brown County: Megan Cumberledge, Sadie Hiatt. Columbus East: Hayden Carothers, Riley Carothers, Victoria Cuhadar, Amelia Fay, Chloe Krueger, Carly Otte, Madison Swartzentruber. Houses: Lucie Asher, Madison Hollman. Jennings County: Halle Franks, Molly Wathen, and Avery Willhite.

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