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Call her the 'Comeback Kid'

Wildcat junior Sofia Naranjo Mata pumps her first as she crosses the finish line fully aware she and senior Sam Krueger, sophomore Emily Banitt and freshman Madison Berg just set a new school record on the 4x100 meter relay at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships Friday, June 1, in La Crosse. Naranjo Mata also set a new school record in the 100 meter dash in Friday's state competition after missing her entire sophomore year with an ACL injury. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia

As recently as this past February, River Falls girls track and field coach Kristi Wagner said junior Sofia Naranjo Mata's status for the 2018 season was "dicey" at best.

Naranjo Mata burst onto the scene as a freshman, winning the Big Rivers Conference title in the 100 meter dash, setting a new school record in the 100 dash at the sectional meet, and qualifying for state in both the 100 dash and triple jump.

But a torn ACL wiped out her entire sophomore season. After getting the green light from her surgeon last summer to resume training, she pushed herself too hard and was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her back, shutting down training again and putting her in a back brace for six more weeks.

As the calendar flipped to January, Naranjo Mata's status remained questionable, but once she returned to the track in the spring she picked up right where she left off, setting a new school indoor record of 7.43 seconds in the 55 meter dash at the UW-Stout Elite Meet April 6, and anchoring the Cats' record-setting 4x100 meter relay team to a time of 49.73 seconds at the New Richmond Relays May 4.

But her comeback really came full circle last Friday at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships in La Crosse, where she broke her own school record in the 100 meter dash with a time of 12.22 seconds before teaming up with Sam Krueger, Emily Banitt and Madison Berg to break the 4x100 school record for the second time this season with a time of 49.04 seconds.

"I remember looking up and I was like, wow, there's so many girls ahead of me," she said about her 100 meter dash race. "Then I looked up at the big screen and was like, oh my gosh! That's a new school record! I was really happy because that's a goal I set for myself this season."

A pretty lofty goal considering where she was a year ago.

"It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, sitting out last season," she said. "But things happen for a reason, and so I'm happy with how state went this year."

Color Wildcat girls coach Kristi Wagner impressed with Naranjo Mata's comeback story.

"Talk about an emotional journey, what Sofia went through getting back from her ACL surgery; wow!" she said. "She is a coach's dream and she gives you everything. There is nothing in the way. It is just her and track."

After competing in both the long jump and triple jump as a freshman, Wagner said the coaching staff decided to limit Naranjo Mata to just one jumping event this year. She chose the triple jump, and that decision turned out to be a good one when she placed 16th out of 24 jumpers with a distance of 35-feet, 06.75-inches in her third event of the state meet last Friday in La Crosse.

Wagner called the tall, lanky Naranjo Mata a "true talent."

"She is very fast, twitchy, or 'wired' as we coaches like to say, and her stature is superb for the sport of track and field," Wagner said. "However, I feel that her greatest strength is her true passion for the sport. Her desire is off the charts. She pours everything into track, 365 days of the year."

For two days last weekend at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships, Naranjo Mata was simply glad she was back.

"I'm just having so much fun," she said. "This has been great."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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