High School SportsHigh School Track and Field


Before embarking on UCLA career, Missoula Sentinel's Ava Kellenberg has eyes set on state title defense

Posted at 9:58 PM, May 06, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-07 11:12:07-04

MISSOULA — Track and field is a gold mine for Division I talent in Montana, and for Missoula Sentinel's Ava Kellenberg, not only is it the sport she'll compete in at the college level, it opened a door for her to attend her dream school, in sunny Los Angeles at UCLA, where she'll become a Bruin in the fall.

"I was so happy. I remember when my dad texted me that their coach had responded to something that I'd sent, and I just felt so happy because UCLA was always a dream school of mine, and I never really saw it as something that would be possible," Kellenberg said.

"And so when I finally got in contact with the coach, I was just so happy because it was always somewhere I kind of saw myself wanting to be like down in California and just kind of a new environment."

Kellenberg's recruiting profile began to blow up after a stellar junior year, one where the Spartan took home the State AA championship in the triple jump last May.

Missoula Sentinel's Ava Kellenberg will compete for the UCLA track and field team starting next year.

From there, the Division I offers from high-level schools locally and nationally rolled in in bunches, making it a busy summer and fall as Kellenberg weighed her next step. Kellenberg visited other destinations such as Colorado State, Oregon State, Washington State and Long Beach State during her recruitment.

"It was definitely a lot of phone calls, a lot of emails. But it was all fun," she said. "I knew that it was something that I really wanted to do. So I was all for it. Honestly, it is like a tough process.

"And it can be pretty stressful and straining, but if you are really like committed to it, and I think that there's so many opportunities out there for anyone, if you really just reach out."

Once UCLA came calling, it was exactly what Kellenberg had dreamed of.

"I constantly look back at my younger self and think about how proud she would be of me of where I am and just kind of sticking with it because there's definitely a lot of points in my athletic career, not only in track, just everything where I felt pretty defeated about, you know, skills or just kind of my mental game and stuff like that," Kellenberg said.

"And so it's very rewarding, and it's definitely a weight off my shoulders to have that decision made and to be able to go where I'm going, it feels very special."

Kellenberg is the latest in a long line of decorated jumpers to come from Sentinel's program — including the McElmurry sisters of Ashley, Audrey and Emily, as well as Lauren Heggen. As high school went on, her love for the sport grew as it became her priority.

"I ended up just really finding passion in it, and it kind of just drove me to keep competing and keep pushing myself," Kellenberg said. "And I think I'm more competitive with myself than anything else. And so it's definitely very rewarding as an individual, but it also feels so good to be able to represent Sentinel.

"By the time junior year was there, I knew I wanted to do sports, but I didn't know if I wanted to do volleyball or track. And then obviously, by the end of junior year, I knew I wanted to do track. So I think it was just kind of like a slow process. But I always knew I kind of wanted to do something. So I'm very, very glad I made the decision that I did to continue track because I do love it."

As the season winds down, Kellenberg is again the top triple jumper in all of Montana with the No. 1 performance, and she also ranks second in long jump, as she looks to defend her title and leave a lasting mark before making the leap to her next chapter.

"The fact that you're always seeing growth, and it's very apparent when you are seeing that growth because PRs are PRs. And when you hit that, it's the best feeling in the world. And so it's definitely a very encouraging feeling and makes you want to keep going.

"It's just such an individual and team process. You're very focused on your own goals, your personal goals, like you're in charge of your own success and failures. But also the fact that you have a team around you that's supporting you, you're supporting them. It's team victories. And so, I think I really liked that aspect of it."