Hengstler-Ranweiler Award: A year of accolades for Willmar's Kessa Mara
Willmar's Kessa Mara was a captain in three sports and the Minnesota State High School League's AAA Award winner of 2021-22
Kessa Mara was on a family vacation in Canada when she heard the news. The 2022 Willmar High School graduate is the Hengstler-Ranweiler Award female recipient.
"Oh my gosh, that's amazing," Mara said.
Mara is the ninth female to win the award that was first given out to the top three-sports girls' athlete in the West Central Tribune area in 1979. Seven Willmar Cardinals have won the boys' award, which began in 1962.
Mara excelled in tennis, hockey and golf. She also won the Minnesota State High School League's prestigious AAA Award for excellence in academics, the arts and athletics, putting an exclamation point on an impressive school year.
"Honestly, I went into the year really looking forward to knowing that I was going to be a captain in all three sports," Mara said. "I do take leadership seriously and I thought it would be fun."
Golf and tennis were long-time activities, going back to when she was very young. Tennis was a different story. She gave it a shot after trying soccer and volleyball.
"Tennis has always been kind of my fun sport," she said. "I didn't have a lot expectations when I got started in it."
She wound up being Willmar's No. 1 singles player in her three years in the sport, helping the Cardinals to an 8-3 Central Lakes Conference record last fall.
In the winter, Mara had 14 goals and 15 assists for the Cardinals' girls hockey team, finishing her career with 27 goals and 47 assists.
"Kessa is an extremely intelligent player able to play in any situation," girls hockey coach Eric Setrum said. "(She's an) excellent playmaker and most of all a great leader both on and off the ice.
"She is very coachable (and) willing to do whatever (is) needed to help the team succeed."
She also got to be a part of the Cardinals' state tournament team in 2020, Willmar' first in 17 years. She said she got her start in hockey going out for an age 8-and-under team for River Lakes when her family lived in Paynesville. She moved to Willmar youth hockey when her family moved.
Her best sport is golf. She earned a state tournament berth in 2002 and was a top-six member of the varsity team for five years, earning all-conference honors three times and posting an average score of 83 in 2022.
"Kessa was an integral part of our team the last five years," said girls golf coach Bryan Mara, who also is Kessa's father. "Her scores were couted every meet the last two years. She has been a valuable leader on and off the golf course."
Mara wrapped up her prep career with a 30-place finish at the Class AAA state championships June 15 at Bunker Hills Golf Club in Coon Rapids. She shot a 79 on the second day to finish with a two-day total of 164.
It was really the start of a busy summer of practice and tournaments for Mara, who plans to continue her career at Winona State, where she plans to be a pre-medicine major after accumulating a 4.073 grade-point average at Willmar.
That comes after winning the AAA Award. She's an accomplished bassoon player in the concert band and also plays saxophone in the jazz and pep band. She also plays the piano. Her father, Bryan, also is one of Willmar's band directors besides coaching golf. Her sister, Kennedy, also attends Willmar and was a member of the golf team. Her mom is Traci.
"When I heard about the Triple-A Award, I really wasn't sure what it was," Mara said. "I thought it was some region award or something. I didn't know much about it.
"And then, when I went to the state event, it was like, 'Oh my gosh. This is a really big deal.'"
She's off to Winona in a few weeks for the fall golf season. In the meantime, she has tried her hand at fishing, catching a walleye on the family vacation in Ontario, where they've rented a cabin.
"I'm learning," she said of her angling prowess. "I'm not the greatest fisherman. But I did catch a 15-inch walleye."