ARTHUR — The three silver medals Kenli Nettles won as a sophomore were great. But as soon as her junior year at Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond began, she was focused on taking the next step up the podium.
Instead of beginning her training in February like she had as a sophomore, she started in September. She ran indoor meets with her club team, competing at the Vanderbilt Music City Indoor Invitational, where she ran under nine seconds in the 60-meter hurdles.
It was then, Nettles said, that she knew "this year was going to be amazing."
Nettles won three state championships at this year's Class 1A state meet — the high jump, 100-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles — and took fifth place in the 200-meter dash. As the only Arthur athlete competing in the finals, her performance was good enough for fifth place overall team finish for the Knights, making Nettles the Herald & Review Area Girls Track Athlete of the Year, an award she also won in 2018.
"Winning those three state championships meant so much to me," Nettles said. "I took second in all three of those same events last year and so being on top of the podium was amazing."
Nettles' high jump title broke a streak of three consecutive titles for St. Teresa's DaeLin Switzer. Last year, Switzer also beat Nettles in the 300-meter hurdles. To improve, Nettles focused 100 percent on her track training, sitting out volleyball season and doing two workouts a day for much of the off season.
"It is five to six days a week of training," Nettles said. "Throughout the year I go up to Champaign and train in the (University of Illinois') Armory. During the school year I will go to my school practice and then I will go to Champaign and do another practice. Two practices a day from February to the end of May, and just one practice a day the rest of the year."
The hard work paid off and Nettles' confidence soared when she was able to top Switzer in the high jump at sectionals.
"It was exciting for sure," Nettles said.
ALAH's girls track coach Michaela Ponstein said she respects Nettles peaceful personality when the pressure is on.
"Kenli always goes into everything so calm and I think I'm often more nervous than she is," Ponstein said. "She is really good at setting goals for herself. She went in wanting to win and her ability to stay focused and handle the pressure so well really paid off for her."
Nettles' arrival as a multi-event state champion has Division I schools knocking on her door. If she had it her way she would run in the SEC.
"I would love to go to Arkansas. I competed there in January and I loved the facilities. Fayetteville is beautiful and I could see myself running there," Nettles said. "But out of the colleges that I have talked to, Iowa and the University of Illinois are my top two right now. I think I'm going to decide around November or December."
While some student athletes find the college recruitment process arduous, Nettles tackles it with enthusiasm.
"I really enjoy it so much. I enjoy getting to know each coach that has talked to me. That's my favorite part and learning all about the school," she said. "I love it all. It is eye-opening to find out who is out there and who is looking at me."
Nettles' desire to compete in the heptathlon (100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, long jump, javelin and 800-meters) in college has her learning some new skills.
"The only things I'm nervous about are the javelin and the 800 meters. Learning the javelin has been interesting. I feel like I am so goofy doing it but I'm kind of getting the hang of it now," she said.
With Switzer competing at Northern Illinois University next year, Nettles' senior season will be a role reversal as others athletes will have her in their sights.
"It will be hard without DaeLin because I have had her to push me the past three years. I think another great competitor I will have to watch out for is Chloe Moyer from Meridian. She really stepped up last season (fifth-place finishes at state in the 100 and 300-meter hurdles) and she's a great hurdler," Nettles said. "I think I have a target on my back and she will chasing me down so that will motivate me to stay ahead of her. I will be fun to find someone to push me and to push them as well."