Creston senior Brianna Maitlen is among the last of what seems to be an endangered species in high school athletics.
In an era when so many high school athletes concentrate on just one or two sports, Maitlen has been a four-sport athlete for four years, and has excelled in each sport.
It comes as no surprise then, that Maitlen was named the 2013 Creston High School Outstanding Female Athlete.
“When you’re a four-sport athlete and had the kind of year she had,” Creston head girls basketball coach Larry McNutt said, “it’s going to be pretty tough to beat that at just about any school, I would think.”
Maitlen will finish her high school career this weekend at the Coed State Track Meet, where she will compete in the long jump and on Creston’s distance medley relay team.
She has qualified for the state meet all four years of high school. She was also a a three-year starter in softball, volleyball and basketball for the Panthers.
“We’re in a time where we don’t have those kinds of athletes anymore,” head softball coach Mike McCabe said. “I’ve been in those coaches meetings a long time now. There was a time where there was quite a list of kids that were three and four-sport people. It’s not like that anymore. It’s just a sign of the times, I guess.”
One of the biggest assets that has allowed Maitlen to be so successful in each of her sports has been her strength.
“She’s just so strong,” head girls track coach Clay Arnold said. “Her core and her legs are so strong, that it’s just so much power there that propels her jumping and propels her speed. To see her in the weight room, she’s just scary.”
McNutt said her blend of strength is something that’s not common among high school athletes.
“She’s strong and her lower body is just as strong as her upper body,” he said. “With girls, not even just with girls, but with boys, too, you don’t really see that too often.”
It was that lower body strength that allowed Maitlen to excel as a post player in basketball for McNutt, despite often giving up five or six inches to the post players she was guarding.
That strength allowed her to be able to outjump taller defenders. It’s also what has led to her success as a long jumper in track and field.
“First of all, you have to realize she has a lot of natural ability,” assistant track coach Mark Evans said. “She’s very strong in the legs. A very strong, powerful girl. She reminds me a lot of Anna Wernimont from Atlantic. Same type of build. And I almost think in a way, that was kind of my thought as she came up as a freshman. I was familiar with Anna, and noticing the similarities in their builds, i thought, ‘I bet she can jump.’”
Maitlen, who began competing in track and field in seventh grade, had never long jumped nor hurdled before high school.
All that quickly changed, though.
“Mark (Evans) picked me out and said he wanted me to be on the shuttle hurdle team my freshman year,” Maitlen said. “So I started hurdling and long jumping freshman year before track. I don’t think I’d be here without him. I wouldn’t have the form, I wouldn’t know my steps. He’s just helped a lot.”
It was the success that came with her long jumping and hurdling that made track and field one of her favorite sports, along with volleyball, Maitlen said.
And that success came quickly.
Maitlen qualified for state in the long jump her freshman year, and ended up finishing sixth as a freshman.
She has now qualified for state in the long jump each of her four years, and if she places in the event on Thursday, she’ll be a four-time placewinner in the event.
It wasn’t until her sophomore year, though, that Maitlen realized just how special her career could be.
“I was at districts and I had two scratches,” she said. “It was my third jump and Mark came over and he moved me back a foot and a half, and he was like, ‘you’re good enough, you just need to get a jump in to get to the finals, and then you can work on getting to state.’ I was freaking out, and in track, you can’t let things get to you mentally, because it will just tear you down.
“I hit the board perfectly, and I now have my 17-8.75 jump, which is the school record,” she continued. “That moment is just amazing, because I was about to not make it to state, and I hit the board perfect and went flying.”
One of the biggest ways her coaches have noticed Maitlen grow in is with her leadership.
McNutt and Arnold both agreed that she has provided their teams with great leadership this year.
“She’s come a long ways,” McNutt said. “She was a pretty good leader for the most part this year. Bri is not a vocal person. She’s not going to yell at other girls or motivate them with a big pep talk, but she just kind of led by her play on the court. I didn’t know coming into her senior year if she could do that, so she really stepped up that way.”
“She’s really blossomed as far as positive leadership,” Arnold said. “She’s helped all the younger girls with hurdles. But attitude, she’s a good role model now as a senior. The younger girls can see the struggles she went through and overcame them, and I think that means a lot to them.”
Likewise, Arnold said her ability to keep battling this year even when things weren’t quite going her way early in the season has made him proud.
“The start of this year was a real struggle for her, but I’ve never been more proud of her than I was this year, because she overcame adversity,” he said. “She came out this year and her times were all a lot slower to begin with, and her jumps were a lot shorter. But, she showed an attitude that really was a lot different than what we’d seen from her the rest of the time. The mature, driven attitude, she could have given up at any time. But, she stuck to it, kept working hard and those times started coming. Now she’s running as strong as anybody around.”
Though her high school career comes to an end this weekend, Maitlen’s career will live on in the future as she goes on to compete in track and field at Northwest Missouri State next year.
“I’m super excited,” she said of the opportunity to continue on at the next level. “I’m excited to have a long jump coach that knows all about long jumping, and she’s an awesome long jumper. Just to go on is an awesome experience and I’m excited for it.”
Arnold said he’s glad that Maitlen has found something she loves in track and field.
“We’ve talked a lot about how exciting it is to go off and run at the next level,” he said. “I think one of the things I’m most proud of is just her love for the sport. I have a tremendous love for the sport, and to share that with her and have her love it back is a big deal. I’m real excited to see what she can do down there at the college level.”
Evans said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Maitlen make a big leap once she’s been in a collegiate program for awhile.
“There’s no doubt in my mind she’s going to get stronger,” he said. “I have to believe within a year or two, she’s going to be a solid, consistent 18-foot jumper.
“She’s surely going to get some better coaching,” he joked. “But I’m sure the strength training is the main asset of colleges, especially when you have an athlete that that’s all they’re going to do.”
Maitlen, the daughter of Steve and Sue Maitlen, plans to major in radiology.
“I feel honored to be a part of the teams I’ve been a part of,” Maitlen said. “I’m blessed to have had the coaches I’ve had, who have pushed me to be the athlete I am now, because I wouldn’t be near what I am today without them. For my parents and my friends as a support system. They’ve been a huge help and through the injuries I’ve gone through, God has just blessed me with great family members and friends at this high school.”