Avery and Ella Voges Compete in Five Varsity Sports
Avery and Ella Voges Compete in Five Varsity Sports
By: Doug Burns, Athletic Director
I had been tipped off on a couple of strong runners who would be entering 7th grade in 2018 so a visit was paid to them that August to invite them to try cross country. As luck would have it they showed up for practice. The following day, Avery and Ella Voges returned. At the end of the second day of practice, after our post run exercises, they asked to talk to me for a second. They were thankful for the opportunity to try cross country and they had decided it was not for them. I like kids to try at least one competition before making a final decision but I was happy they at least gave it two practices. I have found through the years that talking kids into something they are not up for often does not end well. Ultimately, it is their athletic career, their decision to make. They played volleyball, basketball and softball in 7th grade, then volleyball and basketball before losing their spring sport season in 8th. One of them ran a 6:01 mile in Phys. Ed. in a morning class and the other ran 5:45 that afternoon in the spring of their 7th grade year. The Valley Conference Champion that spring in track ran 5:49.80. Avery and Ella seem to love sports and love competing. Softball is their first love so it seemed a track coach’s pipe dream that they would ever run in a track meet. The two keep themselves incredibly fit and they seem always ready to excel.
Fast forward to the fall sport season of 2020, the pandemic continued to linger on with the possibility of it still worsening before finally improving. The MSHSL made the hard decision to postpone volleyball and football to spring. They decided to allow soccer and cross country to go forward with some scheduling and practice restrictions. Word kept getting back to me that several football and volleyball players from LCWM and Nicollet would be joining cross country. It was an exciting time as our roster kept expanding with kids who just wanted to participate in a sport and be part of our team. Many had already lost their spring sport and were in no mood to lose another sport season. The soccer and cross country numbers grew. It didn’t feel right but it was what we were dealing with and an opportunity presented itself for those who wanted to take it. An email was sent to Ella and Avery inviting them to give cross country another go, neither responded. Practice was set to begin Monday, August 17th. The expected cross country roster of 30 had grown to 45. Then Sunday, August 16, the evening before the first practice, at 9:19pm I received an email; “Hey, Sorry for the last minute notification but Avery and Ella have decided they would like to go out for cross country this fall. They will be at the 9am practice tomorrow. Thanks, Anne Voges”
This was the beginning of an incredible five sport school year for the Voges twins. The MCW coach asked me right away at their first cross country race if I knew “the twinnies,” as she called them, were having complete sentence conversations while they raced. They finished first and second running the JV 2 mile, crossing side by side as they would all season (taking turns who crossed first each race). It was their last JV race. The sisters would go on to finish second and third in the Valley Conference Meet behind only their state qualifying teammate Grace Moeller. That meant All-Conference Honors as well as being integral parts of the Knight-Raider Conference Champion Team. In the meantime public pressure had grown enough for the MSHSL to switch volleyball and football to late fall rather than spring. Avery and Ella immediately joined volleyball and earned some varsity playing time as ninth graders. Volleyball coach Kim Thorson was very accommodating in encouraging the volleyball players to finish what was left of cross country. This also included volleyball player and top alternate Ella Thorson, another outstanding runner, who missed making our squad for the section meet by just two seconds. Seventh-grader Nettie Parsons played junior high volleyball while finishing the season as one of our top varsity runners. The section meet was run in five waves, 19 teams total. Avery and Ella would continue to talk during races throughout the year. As a coach you are left to wonder how much more is in the tank if this is occurring while other racers are huffing and puffing. I would soon find out. I was at the halfway point at the section meet when for the first time all season I saw one of the twins suffering a bit. It is not important to the story which one it was but it was important that I heard the sister repeatedly encourage the one who was struggling. Then, as they made the turn to start the second half of the race I saw her eyes look ahead and lock in just for a moment. It was one of those looks you recognize after having coached a few mentally tough runners through the years. At that moment I knew it was game on and that Avery and Ella would finish strong. It was Avery’s turn to cross first. That seemed like no big deal as it wouldn’t affect the team score, but as we were riding home with just one wave remaining, we began to realize just how well the sisters had run. It was their best time of the year, 21:50 for 5000 meters. When we got off the bus the last wave was not yet posted and if no one beat them from the final wave, Avery would qualify for state while Ella would stay home. As it turned out, a girl from USC beat them in the last wave, so Avery and Ella missed qualifying individually to state by one and two places.
The girls were often subbed in as varsity basketball players where they both played tremendous defense and moved the ball well on offense. Ella put up seven points in the subsection championship win over Waseca helping propel the Knights’ basketball team to the section championship game. When the girls returned their cross country uniforms I thanked them for everything, then said something like “unless you want to keep them for some track races.” One of them shot back, “that’s tempting.” I went on to put together a schedule for them. “What if you could run all of these meets without ever missing a softball game or even a practice?” We hosted eight meets this year due to pandemic scheduling so things would work out for them to be mainstays of the final track event, the 4x400 relay. When I went over the schedule with them, they wanted to know why it said TBD for subsection, section and state. I let them know I couldn’t promise those would work. They then asked if you had to race the subsection meet to run in the section meet. Technically no, but we would not qualify without them, so practically, yes. Even with no promises they wanted to race. They would come over after practices or games and run what they could, though the 4x400 was always part of it. At the Valley Conference Championships anchor leg Ella Voges got the baton in third, made up the stagger halfway through and pulled away down the final stretch. The relay of Avery Voges, Grace Sandmeyer, Katelin Flack and Ella Voges were conference champions, earning All-Conference Honors. Long time MSU track coach Mark Schuck even commented on the great stride Ella had throughout the race, especially in the last 100 meters. She would say after the race we were in third “and that’s awful.” She knows it’s not awful but she is just so driven to get to the front. I got goose bumps (usually reserved for Springsteen concerts) watching the finish. The sisters are brave risk-taking fearless competitors on the track.
The Knights would host Maple River in their first softball playoff game. It happened to be the same day as the subsection track meet at Janesville. It was a hard fought game with the Knights winning 4-3. There was a team talk and then pictures afterward. We had our alternates ready but they had both qualified for section in their main events so we remained hopeful. Avery and Ella arrived in Janesville a mere 15 minutes before their race. JWP coaches had mentioned at the coaches meeting that they made five changes to focus on the girls’ 4x400 relay where they thought they could advance to state. Their best time was 13 seconds better than ours. The race also included River Valley’s 4x400, a team coached by LCWM graduate Heidi McCone (Bergemann) who still holds two school records here. Two of her daughters were on their relay. We knew they were tough after facing them on our home track. Only the top two advance to section of the seven entrants. JWP was such a decided favorite, they put their best 400 runner on a different relay so they could qualify an extra relay to section while still qualifying in the 4x400. JWP got off to a slow start as LCWM stayed close with River Valley for the first three legs. JWP individual 400 conference champion got the baton and a fierce battle ensued with River Valley winning in 4:22.87 and LCWM Nicollet holding off JWP 4:23.35 to 4:23.90. Again, goose bumps. Ella held off the JWP charge. Not only had we qualified for section but we knocked out the team most likely to keep us from qualifying for state. We still needed to get better. Fairmont and Blue Earth were faster than us in addition to the team that would win the section, Belle Plaine.
Avery and Ella had some other business to attend to on June 5, section track was June 12. The Knights softball team would open at Caswell with Belle Plaine in record setting 97 degree heat. We went down 2-0 in the top of the first. Ella bats leadoff and in the bottom of the first she smashed an over the fence homer to left, now 2-1. Goose bumps at the softball game… We came up just short to Belle Plaine, 4-3. Our next foe just a few minutes later was Cannon Falls. Their pitcher had just thrown a no hitter against Fairmont. The Knights hit her pretty well though and put up 12 runs. Avery Voges who just caught the entire first game in those 97 degrees stripped off the catcher’s gear and pitched the whole game in the 12-2 win. When I asked coach Bosma about Avery, he just said he asked if she needed a break and she said she wanted to pitch the whole game. Coaches love having Avery and Ella on their team and rave about them as athletes and as people. I came to school plenty when it was time to hunker down last summer and I would frequently see Avery and Ella at the batting cage. It’s no accident they are good at what they do.
The top two advance to state out of the 27 team section in the relays. Avery Voges had volunteered to lead off the first time we ran the 4x400 but she just wasn’t running the opening turn hard enough. We knew it wasn’t that she couldn’t, it was just that she hadn’t. We thought with the running start and adrenaline of running second we could get a better leg from her. Nicollet eighth-grader Savannah Klockziem who ran the 400 open and 4x400 and tended to run the same time in both so we moved her to lead leg. She ran a terrific leg, then Avery took the baton and nailed the first 100. She would run three seconds faster than subsection, her best split of the year. The change worked. Katelin Flack took the baton and ran a furious leg to Ella as Flack moved into second just before the baton pass. We had practiced exchanges a couple times that week and the girls insisted on getting them right before leaving practice. They could not have gone better on this day. We took second in the race, more than three seconds ahead of third and six seconds better than subsection. We had qualified for state, and for the fourth time, goose bumps.
I have not yet asked Ella and Avery what their plans are for this fall’s sport season. I can tell you whatever they decide; I will be among their biggest fans.