By KEVIN ROBERTS
Kate Kemnitz was competing against sophomores, juniors and seniors as a freshman miler in indoor track and field, but that didn’t faze her. That’s because Kate Kemnitz was unflappable, and she was driven to be great.
Don’t let her easy smile fool you. Kate Kemnitz was born to lead from day one of her indoor track career, and she had the desire to be the best.
“She’s definitely a competitive soul. She hides it well, but you can definitely tell she has an inner drive to be better and to beat people,” coach Dan Dachelet said.
Fellow coach Connor Green would agree with that sentiment.
“Right away she wasn’t afraid to run with our top girls,” Green said.
Kemnitz competed in the Hartford Public Opener on Dec. 19, 2015, at Hartford Public High School. It was the second race of her career. Kemnitz won the 1600m with a time of 6:00.45. She beat out the junior second place finisher by nearly five seconds, and she qualified for the Class LL state meet.
“We were in new territory with Kate,” Dachelet said.
That was a great run, but it was nothing compared to what happened on the weekend of Jan. 15-16, 2016, at the 34th Yale Interscholastic Track Classic at Coxe Cage on the campus of Yale University. Kemnitz ran in the championship race of the 800m. She finished the race in 2:31.53, which broke the school record.
“She was clearly a fierce competitor but we had no clue until she broke the school record in the 800m her freshman year,” Green said.
Kemnitz continued to smash records in her career in both indoor and outdoor track. She leaves a legacy that will be tough to match. Oh yeah, and she graduated as a Top 25 student. Kemnitz is planning to major in environmental engineering at Syracuse University. When the senior academic awards were given out, Kemnitz got the following: Benjamin Buckley Memorial “For the Love of the Game” Scholarship; Urbin T. Kelley School PTO Scholarship; SHS Cross Country Scholarship; and SHS Track & Field Scholarship.
Kemnitz owns six individual records in the Southington track program, and she is part of seven different relay records. She was a captain in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track during her senior seasons. Kemnitz helped younger runners in each sport, and she saw potential in them, just like Angelillo did when Kemnitz was a freshman.
“It’s tough to lead. That’s one of the toughest challenges in the world is leading your peers,” Dachelet said.
Kemnitz led by example through hard work and support of her teammates, and it didn’t matter if the runner was male or female, on the freshman team, the junior varsity or the varsity. Kemnitz always did what she needed to do.
“She’s doing all the right things, and she’s not skipping, she’s not cheating, she’s not taking breaks,” Dachelet said. “She needs to run seven miles, she runs seven miles.”
That’s how you get to run in college, which Kemnitz will do at Syracuse. She will run for the indoor and outdoor track programs as a freshman. Dachelet could see Kemnitz running cross country at some point in her Syracuse career.
“She may be a miler down the road. She’s got some good leg speed, but most good half-miler or milers, they run cross country,” Dachelet said. “You need to have that base.”
“Her speed is her biggest asset. A lot of distance runners have the ability to move up in distances but very few can move down to events such as the 400m,” Green said. “She had a strong base to keep the endurance events very competitive but her true strengths showed at the end of the race when she would kick at the end to beat her competition.”
Ironically, Kemnitz didn’t run cross country as a freshman at Southington. She spent the fall of her freshman season playing soccer. Kemnitz got some time at the varsity level, but spent most of the fall with the junior varsity, where she was a major contributor.
“She did play as a freshman and was a very good player. She was smart, made good decisions with the ball, and could run forever, which obviously was why she was an outstanding track athlete,” girls soccer coach Mike Linehan said. “But Kate’s determination and grit made her the athlete that she is on the field and on the track. She also should be given the most coachable award. She had a great attitude, she was always willing to learn and challenge herself.”
Of course, being coachable is only part of the anatomy of a great athlete. Dachelet pointed to a Mia Hamm quote to describe Kemnitz.
Hamm said: “The vision of a champion is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when nobody else is looking.”
That was Kemnitz, who would put in extra work after everyone else had left at the end of practice. Dachelet said a great runner must be vested in her training, and Kemnitz was.
“That’s that next level, where you own the process. Yeah, you’ve got a coach, but ultimately it’s you that’s out there,” Dachelet said.
Kemnitz’s biggest contributions as a freshman indoor runner came on relays. The 4x800m relay of senior Erin Angelillo, sophomore Taylor Hubert, Kemnitz and senior Gabi Napoli broke the school record five times, the last coming at the New England Indoor Track and Field Championships on Feb. 28, 2016. The quartet knocked 4.08 seconds off of their previous record and moved up five spots from 18th to 13th. That same relay earned bronze at the CCC meet on Jan. 30, 2016, then claimed sixth place and medaled at the State Open on Feb. 20, 2016.
In the spring of 2016, Kemnitz was the first leg on the 4x800m relay that earned a silver medal at the CCC Central Division meet on May 24. That relay was made up of Kemnitz, sophomore Sarah Minkiewicz, Angelillo and Napoli. That same foursome, with Kemnitz as the anchor leg, finished fifth and medaled.
Kemnitz grabbed an individual medal in the 2017 indoor and outdoor seasons. In the fall of 2017, however, something wasn’t right. Kemnitz suffered from breathing issues that affected her performance in cross country. In the winter, Kemnitz came back and broke her own 800m record at the 36th Yale Interscholastic Track Classic.
In the spring of 2018, Kemnitz was back. At the CCC West Division meet on May 22 at Hall High School, Kemnitz was part of two medal-winning relays. In the 4x800m relay, Kemnitz ran the anchor leg and helped her teammates win a gold medal with a time of 9:40.95. Freshman Morgan Hubert, Minkiewicz and sophomore Anny Moquete were the first three runners on the relay.
“It was a team effort that got them the win, but clearly her ability to maintain a lead and finish strong was critical to the relay’s success,” Green said.
Kemnitz had her best cross country season as a senior. She finished 16th overall in the CCC meet on Oct. 16 and was 10th in the West Division. At the Class LL meet, she was 36th overall and the top finisher for Southington. There were times that Dachelet was concerned about Kemnitz doing cross country instead of soccer, a sport she was good at.
“You want to do right by your athletes, and when somebody gives up something that’s been a part of them forever, you want them to have that success,” Dachelet said.
Kemnitz had a good senior season in cross country, but she was far from done. She picked up five records during the 2018-19 indoor track season, including four individual marks. When the indoor season was complete, Kemnitz owned school records in the 600m (1:43.71); 800m (2:24.21); 1000m (3:05.97); and 1600m (5:25.71). She was also part of the record-breaking 4x400m relay (4:16.74), which was also made up of Verderame, junior Meghan Sheline and junior Emma Plourde. Kemnitz ran the first leg of that relay.
Three more records, two individual and one relay, fell during the 2019 outdoor season. Kemnitz is now the record holder in the 800m (2:18.60) and the mile (5:17.01). She was also part of the record-breaking 4x800m relay (9:36.18), along with sophomore Lauren Verrilli, freshman Jackie Izzo and Moquete. Kemnitz ran the anchor leg of that relay.
“I think that this season has been special, what she’s been able to accomplish over these four years, and then be able to cap it with her senior year, all the records, breaking 2:20 in the half-mile,” Dachelet said.
What Dachelet also noticed was Kemnitz’s demeanor in her senior season.
“She genuinely enjoyed this whole process,” Dachelet said. “I think she stopped and took the time to smell the roses, realized she was a part of a group of great young ladies.”
“As a teammate, Kate has always been very nurturing to the younger athletes on the team and is willing to push those around her to get to a higher level of performance,” Green said.
For her outstanding athletic achievements, versatility, and leadership, Kate Kemnitz is The Observer’s 2019 Female Athlete of the Year, but that’s no surprise to fans and coaches.
“Kate embodies what it means to be a Blue Knight. She is courageous, determined, intelligent, and dedicated,” Green said. “Her success both in the classroom and on the track is a direct correlation to the traits mentioned prior and she is a name that will stay on our record boards for years to come.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.
To download a pdf version, click here: 2019 Athletes of the Year