Since having so much success during her senior season, Henry-Senachwine’s Nakeita Kessling has often been asked what she did to achieve it.
“Every single time I say it was the weight room,” Kessling said. “I definitely used the weight room a lot more this year, and that really helped. I got a lot stronger and that helped me jump a lot farther and run faster.”
As a four-sport athlete, Kessling was in the weight room – where she “has a lot of intensity” according to Henry track and field coach Jarrod Lester – throughout the summer and school year.
Through plenty of weighted squats, lunges, box jumps and more, Kessling significantly improved her leg strength.
“It was my senior year, and I wanted to end with a bang,” Kessling said when asked about her motivation to work so hard in the weight room.
Kessling ran faster than anyone in the state and jumped further than anyone in area history this season.
She claimed the Class 1A 400-meter dash state title, placed second in the Class 1A long jump, took ninth in the Class 1A 100, won sectional titles in the 100, 400 and long jump, claimed Tri-County Conference titles in 100, 400 and long jump and set an area record in the long jump at 19 feet, 6 ¾ inches.
“I’m really happy with how my season turned out,” Kessling said. “You always go in with high hopes, but I never would have thought it would turn out like that.”
For all she accomplished this season, Kessling is named the NewsTribune Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year for the second season in a row.
“I think Nakeita had an outstanding year this year,” Henry coach Jarrod Lester said. “She probably had the best track season of any athlete that our school has ever had. She had goals coming into this year, and she did what she had to do to meet them. She was great last year, but she was on another level this year. She was putting up some unreal numbers. She set record upon record this year, and it was an honor to be a part of it.”
Along with the weight room to improve on her junior season in which she earned fourth-place in the long jump and fifth-place in the 400, Kessling did more 400 based workouts and focused on her form in the long jump.
Kessling’s workouts included lots of 200 repeats and 400 repeats.
“Nakeita has the kind of work ethic with the goal in mind to be the best,” Lester said. “Whether it is the weight room, track or basketball, she goes 110% all the time.”
In the 400, Kessling always keeps pushing herself regardless of what the competition is doing.
In the state preliminaries, she ran a personal best 57.27 despite a comfortable lead in her heat, and she followed that by running a 58.42 in the rain to claim Henry’s first state championship.
“In prelims, I was probably three seconds ahead of everyone,” Kessling said. “My mom asked what made me run so fast and push so hard. I don’t know why, but I always think they’re right next to me if not in front of me, so that really pushes me. And I knew I was running with the best in the state, so it pushes you to do your best.”
Kessling recorded the best long jump in area history with her leap of 19-6 ¾ at the El Paso-Gridley Sectional to break the old area mark of 19-5 by Bureau Valley’s Kamryn Kolb. She also went over 19 feet at the TCC Meet.
“In my mind, it’s getting my feet up,” Kessling said. “Usually, when I get my legs up, I jump farther.”
After so much success at Henry, Kessling hopes to get even better at the next level. She’s deciding between Lewis University and Western Illinois University.
“At the beginning of my senior year, I wasn’t 100%t sure if I wanted to do track in college, but after seeing what I could do, I could potentially get better and jump even farther and run even faster [in college],” Kessling said. “I really want to see how much better I can get, so I’m really excited about that.”