Lincoln-Way West’s Kaitlyn Neiheisel is Sun-Times Female Athlete of YearKaitlyn Neiheisel, Female Athlete of the Year of Lincoln-Way West. Kaitlyn was a state placer in diving, gymnastics and track and field. Friday, June 15, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: June 29, 2012 3:18PM
Kaitlyn Neiheisel isn’t one to play it safe, but she is meticulous, methodical and thorough in her
determination to reach her goals.
The newly minted Lincoln-Way West graduate made a habit of challenging herself during a high school career that amazed her coaches and established a legacy that is both inspirational and hard to duplicate.
Neiheisel competed in three of the toughest sports and excelled in all three, becoming the first diver, gymnast and field athlete in school history to win state medals. She did that while carrying a 3.67 grade-point average and earning a place in the National Honor Society.
For those efforts, Neiheisel is the Sun-Times Female Athlete of the Year.
‘‘I think she’s an extraordinary case,’’ said Lincoln-Way West swimming coach Kristen Anderson, who taught Neiheisel in her anatomy and physiology class. ‘‘She’s willing to challenge herself in all those sports. I’ve never been around an athlete like her in my career.’’
Neiheisel’s first sport was gymnastics, which she started when she was 9. She entered high school wanting to be a college gymnast but wound up earning scholarships in two other sports.
‘‘I like to try different things,’’ Neiheisel said. ‘‘If I do [one thing] all year-round, it will get monotonous.’’
Neiheisel captured her first medal in gymnastics when she finished fifth on floor exercise in her junior year. She narrowly missed another with a seventh-place showing this year.
Neiheisel went out for track as a freshman, opting to try the pole vault before adding the high jump the next season. Despite being the shortest competitor in the high jump last month at the state finals, the 5-7 Neiheisel cleared 5 feet,
6 inches to finish fourth, an inch shy of the state champion. She also took fourth in the pole vault, clearing 11-3.
But Neiheisel’s neatest feat came in diving, a sport she took up as a sophomore. A quick study who perused diving textbooks and watched videos to catch up to her more experienced opponents, Neiheisel won her first competition and 35 of 45 in her career, which she capped by finishing second last fall in the state finals.
‘‘Her work ethic is something I have never seen from an athlete,’’ Warriors diving coach Heather Trizenberg said. ‘‘She does not settle for anything less than perfection. That is intrinsic.’’
Also intrinsic is Neiheisel’s lack of fear. Trizenberg recalled a meet just before sectionals last fall in which Neiheisel’s feet hit the board during a failed inward double. A scary miss like that can shake the steeliest of athletes, but Neiheisel got out of the water and didn’t miss a beat.
‘‘I guess I never thought of it as risky,’’ Neiheisel said. ‘‘A lot of other people say you’re crazy to try it, but it’s not that hard. I got scared when I started, but once you get it, it’s just cool. Learning a new dive is always scary. But once you do it a few times, it’s not scary anymore; it’s exhilarating.’’
The same holds true for the pole vault, which is more dangerous than diving.
‘‘I remember freshman year, going for 9 feet was just a big deal,’’ Neiheisel said. ‘‘That was the coolest thing. Now going for 12 feet is an adrenaline rush.’’
Neiheisel, who will dive and pole-vault for Illinois State, constantly is readjusting her goals, afraid more of complacency than of the challenge of the unknown.
‘‘I set really high goals, and then I try to fulfill them,’’ Neiheisel said. ‘‘That’s how you get good. If you don’t set goals, you’re going to stay stagnant.
‘‘High jump just took off this year. I just joined high jump for fun, not to be a state medalist. But this year I said, ‘I’m going to medal in high jump.’ ’’
It’s that drive to be the best that led Neiheisel to become the third person to be inducted into Lincoln-Way West’s Warrior Hall of Fame and to be accepted into the nursing program at ISU.
Neiheisel calls nursing ‘‘my third college sport’’ and is thinking about trying to become an orthopedic surgeon.