Young runner turns heads at NRHEG
It’s not every day that a high school coach can say a definitive leader on the team is an
eighth-grade athlete, especially not one who qualified for the state in their first year of competition.
Bursting onto the scene as a NRHEG seventh-grader during the 2020 season, Quinn VanMaldeghem did just that.
VanMaldeghem finished second in the Gopher Conference last year. And had there been a state tournament in 2020, she would have qualified to compete. Before the start of the season, she had no competitive running experience.
When asked about how it felt to be a state qualifier, VanMaldeghem had one word to describe the feeling: “Awesome.”
Initially viewing cross country as a way to stay in shape and enjoy her spare time, VanMaldeghem said she took the sport up after talking to her mom.
“Well, I played soccer and then I saw that there was cross country, so I asked my mom what it was and she said that it was running, and I like running so that’s how I got into it.”
Aside from working hard and keeping herself in competition shape, VanMaldeghem said there’s a strategy to winning.
“Well, usually you let the people tire themselves up in the front, so as you make your way up there, you can just pass them. If it’s a really windy day, you stay right behind them so they can block the wind for you, and then you go,” said VanMaldeghem.
Aside from her successes, she said there’s another thing that keeps her going: the fun.
“The team spirit is great. It’s a nice sport. Everyone is just having fun; there’s no bad attitudes or anything like that,” said VanMaldeghem.
When she joined the team, Head Coach Miles Otstot said he couldn’t believe what he saw.
“Last year, I didn’t even know she was coming out until the first day of practice, and then she shows up and I was like, ‘Who’s this girl?’ I still say it sometimes. It’s super exciting.”
VanMaldeghem is also the first state qualifier that Otstot has coached.
After finishing third in the Gopher Conference for both boys and girls last season, the Panthers hope to climb to the top of the standings this season.
No official captains have been named yet for the Panthers, but VanMaldeghem will surely hope to lead by example on the trails this season.