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Warriors Athlete of Week: Gymnast hopes to end career as one of best

Brainerd’s Millie Klefsaas completes her routine on the balance beam during a meet this season. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
Jaelyn Kappes2 / 2

Millie Klefsaas

Sport: Gymnastics

Events: All-around

Year: Senior

Age: 17

Height: 5-foot-5

Career highlight: Qualifying for state gymnastics meet in 2014 through 2017

Other sports: Track & field

Grade-point average: 4.0

Favorite class: Pottery

Favorite food: Popsicles

Favorite movie: "Miracle"

Favorite TV show: "The Office"

Favorite website: "YouTube"

Favorite gymnast: Former Olympian Shawn Johnson

Future plans: Attend North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C., compete in track and field, major in sports management with an emphasis in coaching

Parents: Kermit and Lorna Klefsaas

Millie Klefsaas has made a name for herself in the Class 1A track and field world, winning state titles in 100-meter hurdles and pole vault last year and finishing second in the 100 hurdles and third in 300 hurdles as a sophomore.

The Staples-Motley High School senior also wants to be known as one of the best gymnasts the Brainerd Warriors have ever produced. She will get the opportunity to cement that reputation Saturday when she competes in the Class 2A state meet at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.

In three previous trips to state in gymnastics, Klefsaas' top finish was 14th on vault as a freshman. She has finished no higher than 27th in any state event since. Last year, she struggled with strep throat the week of the state meet.

"I want to be compared with the best," Klefsaas said. "I don't want it to be like 'I don't know why this girl made it to state.' I want people to see me and say 'she deserves to be here.'

"I want to do my best. Having done gymnastics for a majority of my life, finishing at the University of Minnesota, probably my last time in gymnastics ever, I'm hoping to hold on to that moment. Ending on a high note is what I'm hoping for."

Last weekend, Klefsaas won the Section 8-2A all-around and floor exercise championships. She was runner-up on balance beam and qualified for state on uneven bars, beam, floor and all-around. It was the third straight year she has qualified for state in all-around and her fourth straight year qualifying for state. She has earned all-state honors on vault, bars, floor and all-around.

In the section meet at Bemidji, Klefsaas won the all-around title with 37.325 points. She won floor exercise with a 9.525, finished third on beam at 9.2, fourth on bars at 9.3 and sixth on vault at 9.3. She actually tied for second on beam but dropped to third via tie breaker.

Her efforts helped Brainerd finish second behind St. Cloud Tech in the team standings.

"I would definitely say it was probably the most successful (section meet) I've had," Klefsaas said. "It also probably was the meet I had the most fun at. I tried to stay relaxed going into it. Being a senior, it was fun to be there with my team because they're all so fun. We have a really good time together.

"I don't think any of us went into it thinking that we have to win this thing. There were no high stakes. It was about having fun, relishing the moment, being there, having fun with each other. That made it way more fun for me. It put a lot of us in a relaxed state of mind, which is good for us because I think we perform best when we're relaxed."

Warriors coach Seth Helland said Klefsaas has always been at her best in big meets.

"The same thing happened last year. She stepped up when she needed to," he said. "If you had to pick one day to have a great meet, it's that one and she continues to do that.

"It was fun to watch. She hit all her events. I wasn't sure if she had won the all-around, but we had a good feeling she was advancing to state after the meet she had. To see she actually won that, it was like a cherry on top."

Helland attributes Klefsaas' gymnastics skills to her preparation.

"Practice time—she knows how valuable it is," Helland said. "She understands how quickly it goes by. Any time she's in the gym, she doesn't let any of that go to waste and I think that shows in big meets like (the section). In her head, she's able to relax a little bit and not get too worked up."

When Saturday's state meet concludes, Klefsaas hopes to be standing on the podium—a top 10 finish. But it will be a bittersweet night because her gymnastics career is ending.

"Honestly it's meant the world to me to be able to be part of Brainerd gymnastics," she said. "(Brainerd activities director) Charlie Campbell has been willing to pair our schools for gymnastics. I've met some of my best friends through gymnastics. I've learned so much about being a leader, being a teammate, how to present yourself, how you can win and be humble, how you can lose and be humble, learning what kind of person I want to grow up to be.

"It's shaped me a lot, who I am now. It's shaped me into the person I'm becoming. It's going to be hard to say goodbye, especially to my teammates and coaches. I've done gymnastics a majority of my life. When it isn't part of it, when I don't have a gym to go to and don't have a team to go to, it will be different. But I'm excited to be an alumni and I'm excited to come back and see them excel."

When Helland started as a volunteer assistant in the program eight years ago, Klefsaas and some of her teammates were also starting. Helland said it's going to be different not to have Klefsaas around next year because she's been a role model.

"Some of our girls can remember and admire her work ethic more than anything else. That's something great in a captain and a leader," Helland said. "Obviously being vocal is good, leading in that sense is good, but to lead by example, and stay true to your word, no one can ever question how hard Millie works.

"I hope stuff like that leaves a stamp on our other kids as they come through. I hope down the road more seniors will have that work ethic and I think they will."

Klefsaas will attend North Greenville University in South Carolina next fall. It was a relatively easy decision for her to compete in track and field instead of gymnastics in college.

"Gymnastics has taken a big toll on my body," Klefsaas said. "I've had a lot of injuries. I don't feel great. I don't know if my body could handle another four years.

"I like the area (in South Carolina). I think I will have a nice four years doing that and still feel good and healthy. I like pole vaulting and I like hurdling. I'm excited to do that in college."

• Kappes state qualifier

Brainerd senior Jaelyn Kappes qualified for her first state gymnastics meet, tying for first in the section on vault by scoring a 9.475.

"We were on vault last," Helland said. "Actually they had trouble with the vault table and someone had to get a special tool to fix it. All the other events were done. By the time Jaelyn did her vault, everyone was just watching her.

"Her first vault was good—she got a nice score. We were walking down the runway together after her first vault and I kept saying 'Leave it all out there,' and I knew she would. She had that look in her eyes that I'm focused and I'm not going to let anything stop me right now.

"She let it fly. I have (the vault) on video on Facebook and I've probably watched it 30 times. To see her go for it like that, and hit that landing, as soon as she hit it, before we got the scores, we thought it was OK and that it should be enough to make it. It was a cool moment."