2024 Times Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year: Newark’s Kiara Wesseh

Norsemen senior brought home 4 Class 1A state medals, captured 2nd straight high jump title

Newark senior Kiara Wesseh is the 2024 Record Newspapers Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

There are numerous girls track and field records on the IHSA website, including every athlete who has earned a state medal since the event began in 1973.

However, one record not kept is for the most state medals earned by an athlete in her career.

Needless to say, Newark senior Kiara Wesseh – after adding four this season to raise her eye-popping total to 15 – might be high on that hypothetical list.

“I just feel like I was fortunate every year to not only to be able to compete in four events, but to also win a couple medals each time, and they just added up,” Wesseh said. “I feel like every year I’ve gained more confidence in myself.

“I feel like most people just see track athletes running and jumping, but the mental side of the sport is just as important, at least it is for me. I’ve had times where I have really had to battle things mentally, like mental blocks in the high jump. But I’ve always been able to overcome fears or struggles and some of that was just telling myself, ‘Come on, you’ve done this before, and you can do it again.’ "

This spring Wesseh, after missing a couple of early jumps, bounced back for a second-straight Class 1A championship at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium with a leap of 1.67 meters (5 feet, 5 inches). She also finished fourth in the 300-meter hurdles (47.62 seconds) and fifth in the 100 hurdles (:15.95), while also teaming up with Addison Ness, Tess Carlson and Brooklyn Hatteberg to place fifth in the 4x200 relay in a time of 1 minute, 47.59 seconds.

All that success for Wesseh has earned her the 2024 Times Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year honor.

Newark’s Kiara Wesseh clears the bar in the 1A high jump Saturday, May 18, 2024 at the IHSA girls state track meet in Charleston.

“After winning the high jump at state last year, I knew it was a possibility to do it again, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Wesseh said. “I guess I’ve always been hesitant to make high goals for myself, because I don’t want to fail. I’ve always had goals going into the season, but I normally don’t share them with anyone. But one at the top of the list for the season was bettering my pentathlon record at the (El Paso-Gridley) Titanomachy, then right below that goal was advancing to state and winning a medal in my events, and I was able to do both. That was very satisfying.

“I was going to miss competing for Newark, but I’m excited to end it on a good note, and I’m excited for college.”

Wesseh, who also starred for the Norsemen volleyball and basketball teams, earlier this year signed her letter of intent to run track – specifically competing in the heptathlon – collegiately at Baylor University.

“I’ve known Kiara since she was a cute little thing because she was our neighbor, and we all knew from that time she was going to be a great athlete,” Newark girls track and field coach Abbey Akre said. “She was a great dancer, and then when she started sports at Lisbon Grade School, it was like, ‘Wow is this girl good at whatever she plays.’ She was blessed with an amazing amount of just raw talent, but she’s someone who has never just rested on that and is always working to try and get better at whatever sport she is participating in.

“I feel like there wasn’t any event, and that includes the shot put and discus, that she couldn’t have been very good at and excelled at if she had made the choice to do it.”

While Wesseh said the competition part of the state finals is exciting her memories of the trips south center more around just being with teammates.

“I think my favorite overall memory of being at state was my sophomore year when we played ‘Robot,’ that is kind of a game we made up,” Wesseh said with a giggle. “We were just sprinting around the hotel room, and it was just so fun, true fun. No nerves about the next day, no nerves of what’s going to happen, just fun. Then last year one of our friends brought their Roku, and we all just piled up on a couple of beds, we just hung out and watched movies.

“Then this year’s memory’s definitely the cicadas, they were everywhere, but luckily they left me alone.”

Newark’s Kiara Wesseh clears the last hurdle as Fulton’s Emery Wherry (left) and St. Bede’s Lily Bosnich chase her down in the 1A 100 Hurdles Saturday, May 18, 2024 at the IHSA girls state track meet in Charleston.
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