Aztec High School graduate Elana Kresl has been awarded The Daily Times' Female Athlete of the Year distinction.
AZTEC — Few athletes have been as accomplished as Elana Kresl.
The recent Aztec graduate found success in everything she attempted in athletics, from splitting time between cross-country and soccer in the fall to helping lead the girls basketball program to its best season since 2006-07, then finding the podium in two events at the state track meet this spring.
Her success on the field, court and track, as well as her prowess in the classroom, where she was a straight-A student throughout high school, earned Kresl The Daily Times’ Female Athlete of the Year award for the 2015-16 school year.
“She was a rarity. A three-sport athlete is rare, and she was a four-sport athlete. And not just a four-sport athlete, but a four-sport athlete who was successful in all four sports and went out there and took care of business in the classroom, as well,” Aztec athletic director Bryan Sanders said of Kresl. “She’s highly competitive in everything she does and has a great mindset. She's a great role model and all around a great person.”
Kresl is held in high esteem in the halls of Aztec High School. Seemingly every member of the faculty knows who she is and struggles to do anything but brag about her. Anyone who is unfamiliar with the standout student athlete only needs to walk the halls of Lillywhite Gym, where a massive poster of Kresl hangs and lists her accomplishments — much to her chagrin.
“I hate it. It’s so embarrassing. I hate it because when they first put it up, everyone kept sending me pictures saying, ‘You’re so special,’” Kresl said. “I hate it because I like to lay low. I like being successful, but I don’t like everyone to see. I don’t want people to see it and think, ‘That girl cannot get enough of herself.’”
During the fall, Kresl was the top runner for the Lady Tigers’ cross-country team, winning the District 1-5A title and placing 10th at the state meet, all while serving as the starting goalie for girls soccer team, for which she earned an All-State honorable mention nod.
On the basketball court, Kresl was the starting point guard for the Lady Tigers and led the team with 10.3 points and 2.6 steals per game.
After the hoops season wrapped up, she returned to running and won the state title in the 800 meters and placed second in the 1,600.
Her success in cross-country and track landed her a spot on the roster at New Mexico State University.
Switching back and forth between her various sports took a toll on Kresl, but she thinks the variety of competition helped her stay motivated and avoid burning herself out on one sport.
“I definitely think that if I did just running, I would have been a lot better, but I also think I would have worn myself out and been really sick of it,” she said. “I’m really happy I took breaks from running because they helped me grow up. I matured from it, and now I’m ready to do one sport. I don’t think I’ll get sick of it. It helped me mentally doing so many sports — it helped me to move on.”
The ability to move on was needed following her senior basketball season.
The Lady Tigers compiled a 19-9 record, finishing second in District 1-5A and earned a home playoff game against longtime rival Piedra Vista, which PV won. The loss left Kresl in a state of depression, and she struggled to find motivation for the track season.
“I was heartbroken,” she said. “But being able to move on was one of my proudest moments. It was really hard. I didn’t even want to go to track because I was so depressed. But I’m happy I finally moved on from it.”
Still, all her success athletically pales in comparison to how Kresl carries herself in day-to-day life.
“She’s what I would call a true friend,” Aztec girls track head coach Anna Strauss said. “She’s a really genuine person.”
Kresl’s genuineness was echoed by Kelly Kelso, the head coach of Aztec’s girls soccer program. Kelso described Kresl as someone who could pick up on her teammates' emotions and struggles, and often pointed the coaching staff toward individuals who needed extra attention.
“Sometimes as a coach, when you’re dealing with 30 or 40 kids at one time, you don’t notice one individual who’s down about something — it could be something on the field, in school, something with their family or whatever," Kelso said. "(Kresl) was always really good at picking up on that and talking one-on-one with the kids. Then she would come up to us and say, ‘Hey coach, you might want to talk with her.' She's just that kind of person. She’s really an amazing person.”
During the fall sports season, while running cross-country and playing soccer, Kresl didn’t miss a day of practice or a soccer match, and Kelso admitted that he often forgot Kresl was pulling double duty because she was always there without complaint.
Kresl said the work load — juggling cross-country, soccer and school — was a lot to handle at times, and some days were more grueling than others. But Kelso never witnessed a lack of passion or intensity out of his keeper, saying she would get frustrated whenever he tried to take something off her plate.
Her competitive nature pushed her to greatness, but her quiet and humble demeanor created an ironic battle the more successful she became. Kresl hates the attention that comes with success, but loves playing under the spotlight. That’s why she played goalie in soccer, loving the challenge of being the last person to beat for a goal. That’s why she always had the ball in her hands in the final seconds of a basketball game, knowing a win or loss would be decided by what she did. And that’s why she loves running and describes it as there being “nowhere to hide” — just her against everyone else.
“She’s a special person,” Kelso said. “I imagine she’s going to do some amazing things with her life, and we’ll look back and say it was a good thing to know her and be a part of her life.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.