When Keri Ertel played softball while growing up in Jennings County, her coaches told her she was a fast runner.
So when she reached seventh grade, Ertel decided to give track a try. She’s glad she did.
Earlier this month, the junior finished second in the 300-meter hurdles and third in the 100 hurdles in the Girls Track State Finals. She is The Republic Athlete of the Year for Girls Track.
“I did a lot of sports growing up, but I think the one that helped me the most was gymnastics,” said Ertel, who went to Madison Gymnastics World for a few years.
After finishing ninth in the 100 hurdles and 13th in the 300 hurdles at state as a sophomore, Ertel made a big improvement this season. At state, she ran 14.40 seconds in the 100 hurdles and broke her own school record with a 43.18 clocking in the 300 hurdles.
“I was happy with the way it all went because I kept trying to perfect my technique, and I knew that would help me along the way,” Ertel said.
“I was expecting her to be on the (medals) stand, but I wasn’t expecting her to be second,” Jennings coach Brian Guthrie said. “We’re still working on her coming out of the blocks, but her closing speed is exceptional. She’s one of the more unique individuals I’ve had in all my years of coaching.”
During the offseason, Ertel traveled to Columbus two or three times a week from August through October to train with Nate Frasier at MVP. She also went to Bloomington twice a week from November through February to train with Ernie Clark at Indiana Track Club and Elite Hurdle Club.
“I think I got stronger with Nathan Frasier in Columbus,” Ertel said. “I think that helped a lot, and doing all the offseason work I did with Ernie Clark helped a lot, too. Getting stronger helped me get faster.”
Besides the hurdles, Ertel also anchored the Panthers’ regional-qualifying 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams. The 4x400 team set a school record in the sectional.
“She runs four events for us almost every track meet,” Guthrie said. “She’s one of those exceptional athletes that comes around every 15 or 20 years or maybe even longer than that. She’s very dependable. She’s so well conditioned, and she has a good hurdle technique, too.”
Ertel, who competed in last weekend’s New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina, plans to attend Clark’s pole vault and hurdle camp later this month at Lawrence Central. She plans to train with Frasier and Clark again in the offseason.
A National Honor Society student, Ertel wants to major in something in the science field and run track in college.
“I’ve gotten some stuff, but I haven’t given it too much thought as to where I wanted to go,” Ertel said. “I need to narrow it down and maybe take some visits this summer. I don’t want to go too far away from home. I’m not opposed to a small school, but I’m not opposed to a bigger one, either.”
With Fort Wayne Concordia’s Symone Black, who won both hurdle races, and Bellmont’s Holly Hankenson both graduating, Ertel has her sights on a state title or two for next season.
“I think everyone is trying to do that,” Ertel said. “As long as I improve, I’ll be happy, but it would be great to win a state title.”
The rest of The Republic All-Area Girls Track team:
Mackenzie Caldwell, Columbus North: The senior finished fifth at state in the 1,600 and 3,200.
Gabby Sims, Columbus North: The senior finished eighth at state in the 400.
Tessa Krempel, Columbus North: The senior finished ninth in the discus and 25th in the shot put at state.
Sierra Lax, Columbus North: The sophomore finished ninth at state in the 3,200.
Olivia Malone, Columbus North: The junior finished 14th at state in the 100 hurdles.
Katrina May, Columbus North: The sophomore finished 16th at state in the pole vault.
Debie Gedeon, Columbus North: The junior finished 18th at state in the 100 hurdles.
Rachel Brougher, Columbus North: The freshman finished 24th at state in the 1,600.
Emily Brady, Brown County: The junior finished 19th at state in the 100 hurdles and was a state qualifier in the pole vault.
Zoey Johnson, Seymour: The senior finished 23rd at state in the 1,600 and was a state qualifier in the 3,200.
Megan Kimbley, Seymour: The senior tied for 27th at state in the high jump.
Sarah Loesch, Columbus East: The senior finished fourth in the shot and fifth in the discus in the regional.
Erin Mack, Columbus East: The senior finished fourth in the high jump in the regional.
Justine Corya, Jennings County: The sophomore won the sectional in the long jump and 100.
Danielle Sneed, Hauser: The junior finished second in the sectional and sixth in the regional in the long jump.
Brown County: Harley Rogers, Rebecca Wedan, Elly Wertz. Columbus East: Kayla Gastineau, Andrea Hendrickson, Vanessa Moir, Cortney VanLiew. Columbus North: Avrie Allen, Kaitlyn Barnes, Nina Bouthier, Aly Bowman, Allison Coffey, Mara Krempel, Emma LaVelle, Janelle Peters, Hannah Poindexter, Elle Williams. Hauser: Jordan McDaniel. Jennings County: Kaleigh Brown, Olivia Heaton, Kyla Ortleib, Katelyn Posey, Denza Simpson, Autumn Thomas, Rachel Thomas. Seymour: Michelle Hoene. Trinity Lutheran: Angi Bergstedt.