PAOLA — The bigger the stage the better Maggie Kauk was for the Paola Lady Panther track and field program.
Kauk, a junior, saved her best for last. She ended the season with state medals in all four of her events, including a gold-medal performance in the long jump.
She was named the Tri-County Spotlight Girls Track Athlete of the Year. (See related story)
“I am extremely honored to have won this award,” Kauk said. “I owe a lot of my success to my amazing coaches who have pushed me all season to reach my potential.
“Winning a gold medal at the state tournament is by far my biggest accomplishment throughout my high school career, and stepping on the podium just really showed all my hard work paid off,” she said. “After I got that gold medal the first day, I knew that I could really do something at the state meet. My 4x100 relay team with Taryn Marcum, Anna Phillips, and Ella Foster had a huge PR in the prelims of the state meet and ended with a third-place finish, which was a big goal of ours. Getting that first-place finish really fueled the rest of my competition that whole rest of the meet.”
Kauk had a leap of 17 feet, 10 inches for first place in the long jump. She had a mark of 36-1 for third place in the triple jump. Kauk ran the anchor leg on the Paola girls third-place 4x100-meter relay team. She placed fourth in the 200-meter dash with a time of 26.72 seconds.
The Lady Panthers put together three incredible weeks, led by some record-breaking and medal winning performances by Kauk.
Paola placed fourth in the Class 4A state tournament. The Lady Panthers won the Class 4A regional at Chanute and were runner-up in the Frontier League meet at Ottawa.
“Maggie Kauk had a tremendous junior season, qualifying and placing in all four of her events at the 4A state championships,” Paola coach Mike Smith said. “She scored 27 points for our fourth-place finish. During the season she broke Paola High School records in the long jump and triple jump, she was crowned state champion in the long jump, third in the triple jump, third anchoring the 4x100 relay and fourth in the 200 in only her fifth meet running the event.”
Her success did not come by accident, Smith said. Kauk dedicated herself to the sport and put the team ahead of herself to accomplish some great things, Smith said.
“Maggie stayed late and worked hard on her events,” Smith said. “She improved her jump approach with coach Ali McCullough and did numerous triple jump drills to improve her technique. She also improved her running form and her start doing drills with coach Keely Toman. She is such a competitor she would always battle and loved competition. We look forward to watching her again next season.”
Kauk and teammate Maddie Pitzer both turned in a pair of gold-medal performances as the Paola Lady Panthers won the Class 4A regional at Chanute.
The Paola Lady Panthers were runner-up in the Frontier League track and field meet, led by a pair of gold-medal, record performances from Kauk.
Kauk broke Paola High School records in the long jump and the triple jump, placing first in both events. She won the long jump with a leap of 18 feet, 3 inches, breaking the Lady Panther record and setting a new meet record in the process.
Kauk won the triple jump with a mark of 36-7. She added a fourth-place medal in the 200-meter dash.
“I would have never imagined having the success I had this season,” Kauk said. “I knew I was close to the school records, and I was constantly just pushing myself to get there. There were definitely highs and lows of the seasons, and times where it felt like I was just plateauing.”
Reaching a level of excellence takes a lot of hard work, Kauk said. The toughest is competing against yourself to set a new standard.
“Our awesome jump coach, Ali McCullough, pushed me to keep getting better, and I was able to finally make breakthroughs and beat the records,” she said. “McCullough is a fierce competitor and an amazing coach and always knew exactly what to say to me when things weren’t going well.
“Mike Smith, our head coach, does an amazing job at getting a ton of kids involved and makes practices fun,” Kauk said. “He always was pushing me, even when I didn’t fully believe in myself he made me realize my potential, especially in the 200-meter dash finals at state.”
Kauk was new to the 200, running the event just five times all season, but she proved to be a quick leaner while training with coach Toman.
“Coach Keely Toman spent a lot of extra time correcting my running form and fixing my starts, which made a huge difference in my performance during the running events,” she said. “I ended my season on a high note, but of course I am already ready to get back on a track and start working to get even better and top this year’s performance.”
The Paola Lady Panthers have a proud tradition, Kauk said. Being part of that was an awesome experience, and now, the challenge is to see where the program can go next year.
“Paola’s track team has always been a powerhouse, and I think I knew this, and the rest of the team did too,” she said. “We worked hard in practices all season to achieve the long-term goal of getting to compete in Cessna Stadium. The atmosphere is incredible, we’re truly a family, and everyone loves supporting each other throughout the season.
“Having not only coaches, but teammates who kept me encouraged the whole season makes a big difference, and that’s what I think sets Paola track apart,” Kauk said. “We knew our roles on the team and what it would take to get to state, and we held each other accountable every day.”