Kendra Keesling was set on Ball State when she was making a decision when it came to her future education.
But after four years of being a cheerleader, volleyball player, and track and field athlete for Delta High School, the senior and soon-to-be nursing major’s athletic career seemed to be coming to its conclusion.
“I really had the mindset that I do not want to do sports in college,” Keesling said. “I think I'm just gonna focus on my schooling and figure out who I am as a person outside of athletics.”
But after finishing her last track and field meet at the State Finals, she couldn't walk away.
At that point, she knew she was attending Ball State in the fall. So she asked Mackenzie Dye Conley, Delta’s track and field head coach, if she could contact the Cardinals track and field program.
“[Keesling focusing on her academics] goes back to making sure we're identifying the right people,” Ball State Track and Field head coach Adrian Wheatley said. “It's really critical that we have the right people in our program.”
A few weeks later, the Eagle traded in her brown feathers for her red counterparts. She announced her decision on social media on June 16.
“It's been very fast and out of the blue,” Keesling said. “But I'm so thankful and I would not want it any other way.”
Ball State Track and Field made headlines this season as they sent two athletes to the NCAA Track and Field National Championships, with one coming home as a national champion. But Keesling was not aware of how successful the Cardinals had become.
“When I reached out, I didn't know much about [Ball State’s Track and Field] program,” she said. “So I was learning as I was being recruited and I was learning about how good of a program they actually were.”
When Wheatley was recruiting Keesling, her competitive spirit stuck out to Ball State’s second-year coach.
“I think sometimes those are the intangibles that you can't really coach,” Wheatley said. “... I think sometimes individuals think they want to be good, but then they really figure out what it looks like to be good. And she's really kind of just demonstrated that through the process.”
While at Delta, Keesling competed in multiple competitions. Last season, she excelled in the long jump and the 100-meter hurdles, which has become her favorite event.
“There's more to [hurdles] than just running,” she said. “I mean you have to actually put your mind to it and really focus on what you're doing. I feel like that makes it fun, especially since the odds are a little bit different.”
She competed in both events at the State Track and Field meet in Bloomington. But one of her biggest achievements was at this year's Delaware County meet.
Both the Delta girls’ and boys’ teams ended the meet as overall champions. Nine county records were broken throughout the night, and Keesling recorded one of those. She now holds the county record for girls’ long jump with her leap of 17-feet-9-inches.
Even Keesling was a little surprised with how her final season went.
“People ask me this question [about how I was so successful], and I really don't know how to answer it,” she said. “...I think I really just had to put my mind to the training aspects of it and learn the technique.”
Conley believes Keesling’s attitude was the biggest key to her success and wants that to continue at Ball State
“She's been one of the best athletes in her grade ever since middle school,” Conley said. “...She's always been really hardworking and really athletically gifted. So it wasn't really a surprise when we started talking to coaches that were interested in getting her to run for them.”
With her decision to stay in Muncie, Keesling expects her family to come and cheer her on once she hits the track. To her, their support will calm her nerves.
“[My family] being there for me is something I'm super excited for,” she said. “...My mom ran track [at Huntington University], so she knows how it all works and she's going to be there every step of the way.”
Keesling is not sure how her career will go with the Cardinals, but there is one thing that she knows about her alta matta.
“[Delta] is going to be so good”, she said. “And that's so exciting because they have so much talent.”