Fruitful Move: Venture to Indiana pays dividends for Republic Girls Cross-Country Runner of Year

After a modest freshman year of cross-country and track in southern California, Julia Kiesler saw her sophomore seasons wiped out by the COVID pandemic.

But Kiesler didn’t stop running. In fact, she trained even harder.

So when Kiesler moved with her family to Columbus in the summer of 2021, she hit the ground running, literally. She helped Columbus North win a cross-country state title as a junior last fall.

“I had a lot of motivation to run, even when we weren’t having practice,” Kiesler said. “I would get up every morning before school and run with my dad. He would bike next to me. I just had really big goals. I saw my teammates and what they were doing and that they were going to college, and I wanted to do that.”

This fall, Kiesler had an even bigger senior season. She finished fourth in the state finals and is The Republic Girls Cross-Country Runner of the Year.

“It was a lot different when COVID hit in California, and the team just fell apart,” Kiesler said. “The weather here is different for running, and in California, the state meet, there are different divisions. You don’t run against the whole state like you do here. At the state meet here, you run against everyone that qualifies, so that’s really cool.”

Kiesler’s father Frank ran cross-country and track at Floyd Central, so the family was familiar with Indiana. So when the state of California was hesitant to return to in-person school last fall, they decided to move back east.

“We moved really just to get me back in school,” Julia said. “I wasn’t doing well with the online learning, and I wasn’t able to see friends.”

The Kieslers checked out Floyd Central, Carmel, Zionsville and Columbus North last summer before deciding to enroll Julia at North.

“I just liked Columbus best,” she said. “I talked to the coaches, and coach (Rick) Sluder really stuck out, and the team really stuck out. It was really good that I moved here. I don’t think I would have gotten to this point if it wasn’t for (teammate and classmate) Lily (Baker) and coach Sluder. Lily really helps push me and keep me excited and everything.”

Baker and Kiesler went back and forth as the Bull Dogs top runner last season. Baker had just as good of a season this year, but Kiesler ran even faster times than she did as a junior.

“I was really happy with my season,” Kiesler said. “Last season, I was struggling with some sickness, and it was a lot colder last year, so the weather this year was a lot nicer for me. I’m really happy that I was more consistent. It was a good senior year.”

“Her consistency and her overall performance was just amazing,” Sluder added. “Just leading us from start to finish was incredible.”

Kiesler estimates her first 5K time her freshman year in California was around 21 minutes.

“I had a normal freshman year, just kind of figuring out what it’s like to run,” Kiesler said. “I was really nervous, but I was on varsity at my old school and competed at state. I think I remember my first 5K, so I’ve improved a lot since then.”

Much of that improvement came during her sophomore year when she was unable to compete. But that improvement has continued through her two years with the Bull Dogs.

“Last year, she was just a few days into being here when we took off for camp,” Sluder said. “Now, she’s been here for a year, and she had the track season under her belt, too, so it helped a lot. Her training ramped up a lot, as well, and that gave her a lot of confidence going into each race.”

Kiesler broke North’s school record and Brown County’s Eagle Park course record with a 17-minute, 28-second clocking for 5,000 meters (3.1 miles). She again broke those records with a 17:17.3 in winning the Brown County Semistate.

“That was one of my goals, and I knew I could,” Kiesler said. “It was just a matter of conditions and courses. Some courses, you just can’t run that fast because of the hills.”

“I think one of the things to me that sums up her season, all the races that have been run at Brown County, all the girls that have ran there, she broke that course record twice in the same year,” Sluder added. “That just tells me how good of a season she had.”

At state, Kiesler ran 17:36.4 on a LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course that is a little more difficult than the Brown County course. Her fourth-place effort led the Bull Dogs to a runner-up team finish and earned her Class 4A Runner of the Year honors from the Indiana Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches.

“I was really excited about it,” Kiesler said. “It was higher that I thought I was going to get. I just kept going and ended up higher than I thought I would be.”

“It’s probably one of the best women’s fields of all-time,” Sluder added.” She definitely ran against the best high school runner Indiana has ever had in (Bishop Chatard’s) Lily Cridge, and for her to be fourth in that field is remarkable. Coach (Rick) Weinheimer and I would talk about the history of the program, and she has put herself right up there as one of the best runners North has ever had.”

Kiesler is planning to continue her running career at the collegiate level. She has visited Boise State, plans visit to Utah, and has been talking to Indiana University, Iowa State and a few other schools.

Currently, Kiesler and her teammates are training for next weekend’s Running Lane Nationals, which are in Alabama. Then, it’s on to track season, where she will look to improve on a sixth-place state finish in the 3,200 meters.

“I think I can break another record for the 3,200, and I want to be part of the 4×800 (relay) team,” Kiesler said. “I don’t think I’m as strong in the shorter distances, but I really want to be a part of that team and help them win state.”

The Republic All-Area Girls Cross-Country team:

Julia Kiesler, Columbus North: The senior won regional and semistate titles and finished fourth at state.

Lily Baker, Columbus North: The senior finished third in the sectional, second in the regional and semistate and ninth at state.

Brianna Newell, Columbus North: The senior won the sectional and finished third in the regional, seventh in the semistate and 32nd at state.

Ellen White, Columbus North: The senior finished fifth in the sectional, fourth in the regional, 24th in the semistate and 103rd at state.

Julie Klaus, Columbus North: The senior finished seventh in the sectional, seventh in the regional, 49th in the semistate and 92nd at state.

Sydney Morlok, Columbus North: The senior finished ninth in the sectional, 15th in the regional, 37th in the semistate and 110th at state.

Ainsley Sherlock, Columbus North: The freshman finished 10th in the sectional and 96th at state.

Jessica Meza, Columbus North: The senior finished 11th in the regional and 39th in the semistate.

Hadley Gradolf, Brown County: The senior finished fourth in the sectional, fifth in the regional, 10th in the semistate and 69th at state.

Honorable mention

Brown County: Megan Cumberledge, Sadie Hiatt. Columbus East: Hayden Carothers, Riley Carothers, Victoria Cuhadar, Amelia Fay, Chloe Krueger, Carly Otte, Madison Swartzentruber. Hauser: Lucie Asher, Madison Hollman. Jennings County: Halle Franks, Molly Wathen, Avery Willhite.