Nielsen leaps into record books

Bear River sophomore has carried huge load for Bruins’ track team
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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LAKE OF THE PINES — Michael Reid’s jaw dropped the first time he watched Kendal Nielsen triple jump. Nielsen, a Bear River High sophomore-to-be competing at an all-comers meet last summer, saw her friends hopping, skipping and jumping down the runway and figured she’d give it a shot. Reid, the sprint coach at American River College, was blown away when Nielsen topped 33 feet on her first try. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s crazy,’” Reid said. “For a ninth-grader and her first jump, I saw a real thing there.” Nielsen soon started training with Reid and began focusing on triple jump technique in January. It didn’t take her long to break the Bear River record, her fourth new school-best this spring. She leapt 37 feet, 5 inches last month at the Colfax Invitational. That same afternoon, she set a new school record in the long jump (18 feet, 2 inches). She shattered her own triple jump record again last weekend, going 38 feet, 7 inches. She’s also broken Bruin marks in both her running events this season, winning the 200-meter dash in 25.64 seconds on March 6 and clocking a 12.25 in the 100 on March 17. “She had a great season last year but honestly this year is more than I certainly imagined, and she seems really excited about what she’s accomplished so far,” said Chris Davis, Bear River’s head coach. “At some point I wonder if she’s going to slow down but she just continues to improve. It’s a lot of fun to watch. She’s matured as an individual and gotten stronger. There’s a level of confidence that she’s gained both through her successes and the variety of competitive venues she’s been involved in.” A longtime competitive gymnast looking for a new challenge, Nielsen put on her first pair of spikes in eighth grade. “I was decent,” she said. “I wasn’t that great, but I trained a lot before my freshman year.” She instantly emerged as one of the Bruins’ top scorers last season, and her offseason emphasis combined with her natural fluency has paid off in the jumps this spring. “It’s just been super impressive,” Davis said. “She’s so darn fast and she’s in such control of her speed. She’s a great leaper as well but she’s really able to maintain her speed in a controlled fashion down the runway. She has great balance and great explosive power in her jumps, and she’s worked very hard to get good at these events.” Nielsen, a scholar athlete who also plays volleyball for Bear River in the fall, agrees with her coaches that the jumps are her ticket to the state meet. She won her long jump division at Saturday’s Meet of Champions with a jump of 17 feet, 7 inches. “I honestly believe, barring injury and barring any interference, that Kendal can go maybe 40 feet-plus in the triple and 20 feet in the long. Her running is just as good,” Reid said. “I think she can go Division I college easy. She’s doing right now what seniors can’t even do. She’s the easiest athlete I’ve ever coached, ever. She’s like a sponge. I tell her something, she absorbs it, she processes it and she does it.” Nielsen has already had plenty of accomplishments to document on her Web site,, but she’s hoping for a few more before the season is over. She’s aiming to break the record in all four of her events at the Pioneer Valley League Championships next week at Placer and place well enough at Masters to make it to state. Davis sees no limit to her competitive future. “She is so talented that I’m often wanting to say ‘what about those hurdles?’ or ‘what about the pole vault?’” Davis said. “If she decided to become a heptathlete, she could. She’s very capable.”