Oh baby, is she fast
Cloquet alum is a track star, mother at NDSU
February 10, 2023
"So, Kendra Kelley, you haven't lost a race in 2023."
"I have not," said Kelley, the Cloquet native and North Dakota State University sprinter who is tearing up indoor tracks across the Midwest.
Kelley owns top-of-the-podium finishes in every individual final she's taken part in since the start of the indoor season Dec. 2, going a perfect six-for-six in 60- and 200-meter sprints. She also takes part in a 4x400 relay that's posting top finishes nearly every time out.
"It comes down to my support system," the sophomore said. "I've got fabulous coaches, great teammates, and a great family. And, I put as much effort as I can into every race. Every race is an opportunity and I try to grasp it when it's there."
On Friday and Saturday, Kelley and the Bison head to Nashville, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt University, for the Music City Challenge. Kelley is set to face her toughest tests yet, including teams from the Southeastern Conference, a regular proving ground for prospective Olympic athletes.
"There will be SEC competition, and a lot of schools from down South we don't usually see," Kelley said. "I'm excited to run against them. It should be a great meet."
Bison head coach Stevie Keller offered his assessment of Kelley's blistering start, but not before pointing out the real-life challenges Kelley faces by juggling college studies and Division I competition with newfound motherhood.
"It's a unique storyline," Keller said. "To be doing what she's doing is very impressive."
After a promising start to her collegiate career, Kelley did not compete during the 2021-22 indoor or outdoor seasons after giving birth to her now 1-year-old son, Brayden.
"It was a lot," she said. "Brayden is at the forefront of my life and a reflection of everything I do."
She wants her dominant return to the track to be a touchstone throughout their lives together.
"I knew I wanted to do this, to show my son he can do anything he wants to do, and show him women are capable of a lot," Kelley said.
Keller said he and the others associated with the team admire Kelley's ability to transition from one role to another - student, athlete, mother - within the same day, every day.
"She's very organized and a good student," Keller said of Kelley, an education major. "A lot of those things helped her through this process. After school and practice, she's got to be a mom for the rest of the day. But she doesn't get behind. She stays on top of things."
Kelley's return to the track has seen her performances jump to a higher level. She tied a school record for the indoor 60 on Jan. 27-28, running it in 7.50 seconds at the University of North Dakota Open.
"They have a great facility up there (in Grand Forks)," she said. "I wasn't sure what to expect with it. I'd asked to do it for some reps in the 60, a race, honestly, I'm still learning. The 200 is my main race."
Kelley won a state championship in the 200 for Cloquet High School in 2018.
At the home meet Bison Open on Feb. 3-4 in Fargo, Kelley won the 200 in 24.11 seconds, missing the NDSU facility record by 0.18 seconds. She holds the school's second-fastest indoor time, at 24.0, set Jan. 21 in South Dakota.
"She works extremely hard and is very dedicated, very driven," said Keller, the head coach. "People that know her know Kendra hates to lose. She's ultracompetitive, and that's really come out this year. She's got something to prove, and it's fueled her fire to come back and show people, 'I can do this.'"
A week after Kelley tied the team record in the 60, her teammate, junior sprinter Ilise Jennings, tied the school record, too, blitzing to her own 7.50. Kelley was not part of that final, focusing on the 200 instead.
"My teammates are fabulous," Kelley said. "Our whole event group has been blowing people out of the water. It's exciting to see."
Kelley noted the NDSU women's team didn't win its indoor Summit League conference crown for the first time in 15 years last season. The team is motivated to ascend back to the top.
"We'd never lost our conference at all until last year," Kelley said. "We have a lot to fight for."
Kelley stays in close contact with family and friends in Cloquet. She's still got a few former high school teammates engaged in their senior seasons in sports, and she's keeping close track of how they're doing.
"Cloquet set me on a path for the success I'm experiencing now," Kelley said. "It's a great foundation for ultimate success, and I'm really thankful for the place that I grew up and very blessed I grew up there."
Keller was eager to see the sprinter take her current level of performance and match it against some of the country's best this weekend.
"This is a great opportunity for Kendra to stack up against some of the better sprinters in the country," the coach said, noting she'll run the 60, 200 and 4x400. "Being from NDSU, a smaller college, going to a big meet, you have a chip on your shoulder to prove to people you belong there. That definitely is in the back of her mind."