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National gold caps Knelsen rookie year

 Knelsen finishes year one atop podium


   In her first year with the Western Mustangs the 18-year old Malahide resident 

   concludes her track season at U-Sports with four top sevens including gold


  April 8, 2022


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By Rob. J. Ross 

ST. THOMAS - Her smile showed it all.

Standing atop the podium with her 4x800-metre relay teammates, Hallee Knelsen could reflect on a memorable first year with the Western Mustangs, that concluded at the U-Sports track and field championships.

The 18-year old Malahide resident brought home a gold medal in the 4x8, a bronze from the 4x400-metre relay and seventh place finishes, in both the 600 and 1000 metre runs, at the meet for Canadian universities, March 31-April 2, in St. John, New Brunswick.

"I proved to myself that I can be a competitor with the best in Canadian university," Knelsen said. "I think also I learned how beneficial it is to have a big supportive team. I really like the team aspect of it. I love my team. It definitely makes everything more fun."

Capturing gold also earned Knelsen recognition as a First Team All-Canadian, along with her relay mates Chloe Hewitt and the Coutts sisters, Sophie and Chloe. Knelsen's results contributed to the Western women placing third overall in the team standings.

"It's really exciting. Definitely for my first season, I'm really happy with it. I'm really proud of what I accomplished this season," Knelsen said. "It's been a good progression. I've improved in all of my races since the beginning of the season."

Her success at U-Sports followed a three medal performance, along with a fourth place finish, at the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championships in mid March, where Knelsen was named female rookie of the year.

"Hallee has been an amazing individual on our team," said Guy Schultz, Mustangs' middle distance coach. "She's very coachable. She's always wanting to learn more and she's always asking questions and asking why we do things. To be able to win a national championship in her first year, is amazing."

In her first year, Knelsen displayed the mentality of a more senior competitor.

"She almost seems like one of our upper athletes because she takes really good care of herself," Schultz said. "She eats well, gets massages, treatment, stretching, doing strength, keeping on top of things. It's rare that you see that in a first year athlete. She obviously wants to be one of the best runners in Canada."

Winning the 4x800-metre relay race in a school record time, of eight minutes and 47.17 seconds (8:47.17), was the pinnacle race for Knelsen at U-Sports.
"I was super happy. We had the right race at the right time," Knelsen said. "It was really good. I think I ran really well. Since I got the baton in first it was really hard to know what was going on behind me, but I ran a leg I was really happy with."

Handing the baton to Hewitt, the team's fourth runner, the Mustangs were good shape, but Knelsen wasn't celebrating yet.

"I knew we were in a really good position, but I know Guelph and Saskatchewan have really strong fourth legs," Knelsen said. "I didn't want to assume we're going to win too early. I knew anything could happen in a relay."

Hewitt maintained the lead, with Saskatchewan finishing second in , followed by Guelph, the pre-race favourite and the team the Mustangs has been chasing all season.

"Hallee's job, if we got in to the lead, was to go hard and not let the other girls catch up to them at all. That's exactly what she did," Schultz said. "We knew we had a really good chance to win for sure, but we knew they all had to run their best race. It was a little surprising, but at the same time they're all committed young ladies."

Knelsen was most proud to win gold with Hewitt and the Coutts sisters.

"To do it with the team is really exciting and special. We definitely earned that spot so it felt nice," Knelsen said. "Three of us are rookies and it's Hewitt's last year. I was really happy for her. I was glad she got to anchor that and it was really cool that she was able to cross the line in first. To get her a gold at her last one (U-Sports) is really cool."

Note to opponents across the country, it'll be three more years for Knelsen and the Coutts sisters.

"I'm really looking forward to the next years," Knelsen said. "It's looking to be a bright future for the relay team."

In the 4x4 relay, Knelsen, Sophie Coutts, Favour Okpali and Rosemary Holmes, finished third, behind champion Guelph and silver medalist Saskatchewan, in a time of 3:49.54.

In her debut race at U-Sports, Knelsen was seventh, in the women's 600 (1:34.32), missing advancing to the final, by one position.

On day two, Knelsen again finished seventh, in the 1000-metres (2:50.41).

"I'm always leery having a first year run that many events," Schultz said. "So we were going to play it be ear and see how she did after every event. But she keeps surprising us every time. Even in the 1000, she ran really hard to catch up and we knew she still has some left in her."

Having races on consecutive days at both the National and provincial meets was a test for Knelsen. Usually it is two day meets during the OUA season, but COVID greatly affected this season's schedule.

"We only had one day meets leading up to OUs and USports, so being able to handle that many races and still run well was good," said Knelsen, who raced five times in 48 hours in St. John.

Mustangs' track captain Kate Current, who won both the 1500 and 3000 metre races at U-Sports, quickly noticed Knelsen's unique talent and dedication to her training.

"She has such a positive mentality when it comes to training. There isn't really anything negative that ever comes out of her mouth, said Current. "As a rookie, it's really impressive. It's so easily to come into university and be overwhelmed by the level of talent. I don't think that has phased Hallee. She has learned a lot from each race that she has run."

Current, who was this week named the Mustangs' 2022 female track and field MVP, offers some tips to Knelsen, who may one day hold the same honour.

"She is a very smart racer for a rookie. She's already ahead of the field," Current said. "I would advise her when she's doing invitationals and for the summer season, really practice different race strategies. I know Hallee likes to start conservative and kick girls down at the end, because she has that monstrous kick. But I think it would be interesting to see her go hard from the start and take the lead. Mix things up and learn different ways to race. That'll really come handy when you get in to championship races. A lot can happen and you have be be ready for anything."

For her first year, Knelsen is satisfied, but already working on moving forward.

"Overall, it was really good, but still a lot of room for improvement," said Knelsen, who plans for more training throughout the summer.

The 4x800 is the highlight from U-Sports, but Knelsen's most memorable moment of her rookie season, is attaining the standard for the U20 World championships, in the 800-metres, at Boston University, in February.

Knelsen will continue striving to improve her PB time of 2:06.74, ensuring a spot with Team Canada, for the event, in Cali, Columbia, this August.

For the summer outdoor season, Knelsen will return to the St. Thomas Legion club with coach Harry Stantsos, focusing on the 800 and 1500 metres.

As her career progresses, there will certainly be more moments for Knelsen to be smiling.








Related articles:

     Knelsen makes U-Sports debut in the 600m

    Knelsen OUA female rookie of the year

    Three OUA medals for Knelsen

    Another PB performance

    800 standard attained

     Strong early in OUA season 

     OUA resumes for local athletes   

         Knelsen breaks 43-year old meet record



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