Cross country: Malone looks to lead Tigers back to state
STEWARTVILLE — Kailee Malone’s high school athletic career already has had as many ups and downs as the most challenging cross country course.
The three-sport standout at Stewartville High School is just beginning her junior season, but she already has felt heartbreak in the cruelest of fashions in a couple of sports. And she’s experienced the joy of accomplishing something that no other team in school history had accomplished.
All of those experiences — the highest highs and the seemingly lowest lows — have only fueled Malone’s fire.
As her cross country coach points out, don’t let Malone’s friendly personality distract from the fact a fierce competitor lies just beneath that bubbly surface.
“Kailee has such a calm demeanor,” Tigers head coach Mickie Tuseth said, “you wouldn’t know she has that fire in her belly.
“She brings that fire to her workplace — to practice — every day. She doesn’t slack off and, even more than I probably know, when that switch is flipped in her, she really goes.”
That fire — and teammates who match that fire — is a big reason why Malone has seen so much success in the past year.
It started last fall when she helped the Tigers cross-country team qualify for the Class A state meet for the first time in school history, edging state-ranked Lake City for the second and final berth out of Section 1. It was an emotional accomplishment for Stewartville, which had lost out on a berth a year earlier because of a tie-breaker at the section meet.
Malone was the Tigers’ top runner at state, earning All-State honors for a second consecutive year by placing 13th (she placed 16th as a freshman in 2016). More importantly to her, Stewartville finished fourth as a team in the 16-team field.
“We’ve done a lot of offseason training and had a lot of motivation,” said Malone, who also excels in basketball and track and field. “We want to get back to state, but we know it’s going to be really tough to get there.”
Malone’s outstanding athletic season continued last winter, when she played in every game for the 24-6 Tigers basketball team that finished one win shy of reaching the state tournament, falling to Byron in the section final by just five points, 80-75.
Her fortunes turned around again in the spring, as she qualified as part of three relay teams for the Class A state track and field meet. She helped the Tigers’ 4x800 team — which included fellow cross-country runners Abby Orvis, Laura Pedelty and Gracie Waltman — to a second-place finish.
“In all of the seasons, we’ve seemed to have that one year where we’re so close to making it, and then you don’t,” Malone said. “That heartbeak … coming back from that, you know you can get there, and you know you have to keep going and keep trying.
“We have really high hopes again. We still want to improve, but we know we can do well this year.”
As the three-time defending Hiawatha Valley League champion, the reigning Section 1A runner-up (behind powerhouse Winona Cotter) and a state qualifier a year ago, the Tigers are well aware other teams will be motivated to beat them.
Stewartville lost just one runner — Orvis — from last season’s team, though she was a key part of the team’s success. Orvis finished 11th in the section and 23rd at state.
“The girls know they can’t rest, can’t have a down week or down day,” Tuseth said. “They know there’s a target on their backs. I think they’re pretty clear about where they stand, but we know we can’t dwell on it. That would be counter-productive.”
Malone agrees, saying the Tigers have put last season behind them and are focused on improving with each practice and meet this fall.
“We push each other a lot in practice; we have some good new runners out,” she said. “We’re really excited for this year. Our goal is to hopefully go back to state. We’re all having fun, and we just love running together.”