Greg Peters column: It doesn't get more 'real' than Sam
There were a handful of guys sitting inside The West Wind Supper Club in River Falls recently doing what guys normally do in a bar. They were solving the world's problems and each, in his own mind, seemingly became more intelligent with every sip. The main topic this particular evening: who is the greatest all-around athlete in the history of River Falls High School? Now, collectively, these gentlemen had front row seats for Wildcat athletics for the past 60 years. Keep in mind, post-high school accolades were not applicable; it was strictly based on achievement in the most sports while attending River Falls High School.
They compiled a pretty solid list, sources say, but their Bruce Springsteen "Glory Days" banter had one glaring omission; a five-foot-nothing, sweating, desirous ball of dexterity named Sam Krueger.
Wildcat senior Sam Krueger sweats when she's on the volleyball court, while pole vaulting, and especially during gymnastics.
"Sam likes the chalk," says freshman gymnastics teammate Eva Mikla, "her hands and feet sweat a lot and she loads up on the chalk."
Sweating the small stuff, the details, is what made Sam Krueger the Wisconsin State Individual
Gymnastic All-Around Champion this past weekend in Wisconsin Rapids, her fourth trip to the state tournament in four years. Krueger was the state individual champion on the beam, floor, and vault.
"Gymnastics is very detail-oriented," said Wildcat gymnastics coach Lauren Kaminski. "You have to be a quick thinker. Everything has to be quick and connected."
"Gymnastics is all about the details,"said Krueger. "You pick up a tenth of a point in certain areas just doing the little things right."
Krueger has done the "little things" right and the "big things" have taken care of themselves.
As a sophomore, Krueger won the state individual title in the floor and vault exercises. As a junior, she won the floor state title with a state record score of 9.833.
"We'll likely never see that score again," said Kaminski. "Sam Kruegers don't come around very often."
Talk about sweat equity. Krueger broke bones in her back two different times in 10th grade.
"It helped being off for six weeks," said Krueger. "I really saw what it was like not doing any sports and saw how much I missed it. If I have a bad day or I'm stressed out, when I walk in the gym, I'm just home."
Krueger started the fall season of her junior year in the gym helping the Wildcat volleyball team to the state tournament as the defensive specialist (the libero). Once again, quick thinking and body control were her recipe for success.
"It's ridiculous how good she is and volleyball's her third sport," said Wildcat volleyball coach Sara Kealy. "I just gave her the green light to be a part of the volleyball team and we worked around her gymnastics' schedule."
Krueger was going to give up volleyball her senior year and focus on gymnastics.
"My volleyball friends talked me into playing and I'm glad they did," said Krueger, who has been known to do standing backflips and walk on her hands to the water fountain during volleyball practice just to lighten the mood.
"I would've missed out as a coach if she didn't play," said Kealy. "She's everything I wished I was when I was a kid. She brings you back to reality. She's real."
Krueger, nicknamed "The Cat" in volleyball, once again, helped lead the 'Cats back to the state tournament in volleyball her senior year, so if you're counting, that's sux state tournament appearances in two sports, including six individual state titles and one All-Around state title in gymnastics.
The G.O.A.T. (greatest of all-time) resume, however, is not quite finished. Krueger spends her springtime pole vaulting on the track team and qualified for the state tournament as a junior. With one final track season before she graduates, Krueger will be gunning for her eighth state tournament appearance in three sports. In the current age of sport specialization, you will likely never again see someone so skilled, in so many sports, at the high school level in River Falls.
The best all-around athlete in history of River Falls High School may also be one of the best well-rounded, according to her teachers. Deb Ottman is Krueger's life skills teacher. It's a class teaching decision making, conflict resolution, and relationships to name a few.
"It's so easy for high school students to go with the flow and do what the crowd does," says Ottman. "Sam holds true to how she was raised and everyone likes her for that. To me, the most important thing is to leave high school and be well-rounded."
There was a Dry Idea women's deodorant commercial years ago with the tagline "never let them see you sweat." I wrestled with using a "sweat" theme while writing about Sam Krueger. Sweat can have an embarrassing connotation and that's the last thing I wanted to do. I thought, it might for some but not Sam Krueger. Like Coach Sara Kealy said, "Sam's real."
"Real" people, like Sam Krueger, are never looking for recognition. On road trips, "real" people are picked by every single player on their team to share a hotel room. "Real" people are conscientious and kind. "Real" high school seniors talk to freshman teammates like Eva Mikla and give them pointers because they remember what it was like being in their shoes.
You have to know Sam Krueger sweats because if you don't, you won't understand how "real" she really is.