Kaia Sueker is a girl on the move. The sophomore at Marshall High School is constantly involved … in something. It might be music, where she plays the violin and is also a percussionist. It might be the basketball team in the winter, the track team in the spring, or the volleyball and cross-country teams in the fall.
That’s right, Kaia (“KY-uh”) is a two-sport athlete during what for most athletes is a one-sport season. You want to see someone who stays busy? Here she is.
“I do have a little free time to get my homework done,” she said. “And I like art, drawing or painting, stuff like that.”
Fall is Kaia’s busy season, and it was capped at Saturday’s state cross-country meet. The Marshall Tigers finished fourth in Class 2A and Kaia placed 28th among individual runners. In the field of 175 runners, Marshall’s Claire Boersma placed 20th, Natalee Sample was 25th, Morgan Radel was 44th, Alison Mortier was 79th, Bellamy Sukalski was 87th and Sydney Blomme was 162nd.
“I thought the race went well,” Kaia said. “I thought we gave it our all. Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, there’s nothing to be sad about because we gave it our all and pushed hard.” (Kaia, wearing 778, is pictured warming up Saturday with Boersma.)
Kaia’s after-school schedule included volleyball practice on non-game days, usually followed by getting in miles as a cross-country workout. Volleyball, a highly coordinated team sport, requires everyone to be at practice; cross-country is more of an individual activity where Kaia could get her work done around her volleyball schedule.
“It’s really unique,” said Marshall girls cross-country coach Marie Sample. “I’ve never known a kid to be able to do both sports at the level she has.”
After Kaia’s freshman season on the Tigers track team, Sample came up with an idea. Sample is also the girls track coach and she knew Kaia was talented on the track. So …
“I talked to her about this shared thing and said, ‘Why don’t you try it?’ She got in it and realized she’s a pretty good little runner.”
Kaia, Boersma, Nichole Sample and Natalee Sample (daughters of Marie) went to state in the 4x800 relay last spring, finishing 12th in Class 2A. Marshall competes with the state’s biggest schools in track, volleyball and cross-country, which makes Kaia’s dual-sport experience even more remarkable.
“It’s obviously difficult but the reason it’s able to work is because Kaia is a kid who’s really mastered the skill of time management at an early age,” said Marshall volleyball coach Dan Westby. “I’ll never get it right. My desk looks like World War III. She’s really got that part down.”
The Tigers volleyball season ended a week ago with a loss to Prior Lake in the Class 3A Section 2 playoffs. That gave Kaia a rare week with just one sport as the Tigers prepared for Saturday’s cross-country championships.
“It is a little weird this week,” she said with a giggle.
Kaia and the Tigers cross-country team also went to state last season, where they finished second behind Edina in the team race and Kaia placed 27th among individuals. Saturday was Marshall’s fourth consecutive appearance at state as team.
Cross-country, especially on the girls side, is filled with small athletes and Kaia fits that bill at 5-foot-2. She stands out on the volleyball court, however, where height is important at the net. She’s a specialist, coming onto the court to serve and defend in the back of the court. Even playing a part-time role, she led the Tigers in serve attempts, serve percentage and ace serves this season.
“She’s a kid who’s always been really driven,” Westby said. “If she sets her mind to do something, she’ll do it well.”
Kaia was the Tigers’ No. 2 finisher at the Section 2 cross-country championships.
“Without Kaia we’re a different team,” Sample said. “She adds a punch. The thing about Kaia that’s really cool is she is a competitor. She’s kind to everyone, a great teammate. But she competes.”
Kais said she loves the team atmosphere of cross-country.
“Everybody’s always there to support you,” she said. “Even after races other people will give you a hug and say, ‘Great job.’ I love the nature of the sport.’ ”
After playing volleyball “since I could probably walk,” Kaia said, “I love volleyball, too. It’s a team sport and it’s just like a great atmosphere. I love that, too.”
When Sample proposed joining the cross-country team, Kaia got excited.
“My track coach kind of brought up the idea of, ‘Why not try both this year and see how it would work?’ Track was really fun and she thought (cross-country) would be a great opportunity, too. My reaction was like, ‘Oh, that would be awesome, I hope this could all work out.’ I was very excited but I did think, ‘How would this work?’ ”
Turns out it worked just fine.
Basketball practice starts in 11 days.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 234
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 4,638
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn