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Krueger leaves lasting legacy at RFHS

Wildcat senior Sam Krueger runs the first leg of the girls 4x100 meter relay Friday at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships in La Crosse. Krueger, sophomore Emily Banitt, freshman Madison Berg and junior Sofia Naranjo Mata set a new school record time of 49.04 seconds to qualify for Saturday's finals. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
Sam Krueger dives to make a dig at the 2017 WIAA State Volleyball Tournament in Green Bay last November. Krueger was an All-Big Rivers Conference libero for the two-time state qualifying Wildcat volleyball team. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
Sam Krueger, center, stands on top of the awards podium after winning the all-around title at the WIAA State Gymnastics Tournament in Wisconsin Rapids in March. Krueger won four individual titles at the 2018 meet to give her seven in her high school career. Submitted photo 3 / 3

Sam Krueger graduated from River Falls High School Sunday, June 3, after competing in eight state tournaments in three different sports during her four-year high school career.

She owns seven individual state gymnastics titles, a state volleyball runner-up medal and two state track and field appearances. She was one of just 32 student-athletes in the state to receive the 2018 WIAA Scholar-Athlete Award, and most recently was named a Powerade Athlete of the Year.

When asked if she understands her place in River Falls High School athletic history, she just smiled shyly, shrugged her shoulders and said, "I don't know."

Krueger wrapped her storied career at River Falls by running the opening leg on the Wildcats' 4x100 meter relay team that set a new school record over the weekend at the WIAA State Track and Field Championships in La Crosse.

It's the fifth school record she will leave River Falls with, along with the four school gymnastics marks she already owns.

After qualifying for state in the pole vault as a junior in 2017, Krueger took her talents to the track this year, and girls track coach Kristi Wagner couldn't be happier.

"I'm so glad we were able to advance the 4x100 to state and give Sam another opportunity, extending her illustrious career," Wagner said. "I'm so glad to have Sammy in our record books as she leaves our program. It is very fitting."

Krueger broke eight different school gymnastics records in her four-year career. She qualified for the state gymnastics meet in all five events her freshman through junior years and in four of the five as a senior and placed in 16 of her 19 state meet appearances. She won a total of 11 Big Rivers Conference individual titles and 11 individual sectional titles and is one of just four individuals to win seven or more state titles since the WIAA began sponsoring gymnastics in 1971.

But her gymnastics coach Lauren Kaminski said Krueger is an even better person than an athlete. She remembers when Krueger broke the school record in the floor exercise for the fourth time at the Cats' home invite this past season with a near-perfect score of 9.9.

"I'll never forget it," Kaminski said. "When that score flashed and the whole crowd erupted, and Sam, the team, and the coaches all reacted, it was really incredible. And I said this when it happened, but it really stuck out to me; she enjoyed her moment, hugging her coaches and teammates and celebrating, but she didn't dwell on it long. Her teammates were on floor right after that and she was over cheering them on immediately. And that is just the perfect summation of her as an athlete, in my experience: focused during her routines, performing incredibly, and accomplishing big things, but then being there for her teammates above all else."

When the gymnastics season ended each fall, Krueger took her talents to the volleyball court, where her athleticism helped her become an All-BRC libero (defensive specialist) for the Wildcats. She was on the first River Falls volleyball team ever to qualify for state in 2016 and earned all-state tournament honors on the Cats' state runner-up team this past season.

"Sam is the one that we have to continue to convince to play volleyball," Wildcat coach Sara Kealy said after the state tournament last November. "She keeps trying to leave our program and we have to pull her back in. But our team wouldn't be the same without her. Sam's that kid that you just hope your kids grow up to be like. She's just special."

In track, Krueger was a BRC champion in the pole vault before moving into the 4x100 meter relay rotation and qualifying for state in two different events in two years. She competed in the final state tournament of her career in La Crosse last weekend, but she said it felt like the first

"This state tournament felt so different from the last one because the last one I was just pole vaulting and I didn't get to go in the tent with the girls," she said. "This year in the tent there was so many nerves and it was so, so different from pole vaulting by yourself. So it felt like it was my first time here, but I know it's my last time as well."

After her final race Saturday Krueger said it still hadn't sunk in that her high school career was over. She plans to attend UW-Eau Claire in the fall and major in Elementary Education, and Wagner said she's got all the tools to be as great teacher.

"I know this is redundant, but really, Sammy is even a better person than she is athlete, and that's saying something," Wagner said. "She is the kind of kid that makes everyone around her better."

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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