MCCOOL JUNCTION – When McCool Junction senior Madison Gerken was in middle school, she was faced with a decision.

Volleyball or cross country?

On Thursday morning at McCool Junction High School, with friends, coaches, family and an assembly of all the McCool Junction students in attendance, Gerken signed her letter of intent to attend Hastings College next fall.

Gerken will further her education in the field of biology, and participate in both cross country and track for the Broncos.

“In junior high here, we all do the sports because we practice during our PE time. So it was either volleyball or cross country and I just decided I was going to try cross country because they had a super small team,” Gerken said. “I really ended up liking it and made a lot of friends on the team. In high school I just realized that I like to run and that’s been my fire. I love my team and I love everyone on it.”

Hastings College head cross country and track coach, Ryan Mahoney, knows the success that Gerken has experienced in both sports, but it is much more than her athletic qualities that he sees in her.

“Obviously she’s a great runner and we have seen that in both cross country and track. Everything I’ve heard with anyone associated with her is she’s a young woman of high character, she has great leadership qualities, she is extremely personable and has a ton of charisma,” Mahoney said. “We’re bringing in a lot of freshmen this year, and to have a young lady like her learning the ropes next year of collegiate running, I can definitely see in a couple of years that she will be a team leader that can take younger runners under her wing and accomplish some great things.”

While Gerken will be focusing on her athletic career at Hastings, she made her choice of schools not only on what was best for her in the sports field, but also later on in life.

“I want to major in biology and become a physician’s assistant. So I was looking at good biology programs and I really liked the smaller-school aspect that Hastings College had to offer,” she said. “I was just trying to find that right fit for me, as well as the financial portion to put me in the best financial situation for my undergrads so then I can continue on to medical school. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m not worried about it because I’m involved in so many school activities now. Instead of putting all my time into several separate activities, I’ll just be putting it into one at a time.”

As a high school runner, Gerken has won a total of nine state medals in both cross country and track.

She’s a four-time state qualifier in both sports, and as a junior she won the Class D 1600-meter state championship. Gerken currently holds the school record in both the 1600 and 3200.

Just this past fall at the Kearney Country Club, Gerken took third in the Class D race. All four years of her high school career the Mustangs’ cross country team finished in the top four of the final team standings.

McCool Junction head cross country coach, Ryan Underwood, said Gerken is always going to find ways to make herself better at what she does.

“I think two things really stand out: one is her work ethic, and she is always going to try and find out the little nuances of the work that she needs to get done, and she is going to do everything she needs to do,” Underwood said. “I also think her leadership is so strong, and she has always been a person who doesn’t follow the crowd. She has a very good moral code to herself and she adheres to that and she is always going to think about what is the best thing for me to do as a leader, even if it requires a lot of hard work.”

Gerken also considered Division II schools in the University of Nebraska-Kearney and Fort Hayes State, and some smaller schools like Concordia University and Nebraska Wesleyan University.

“She always looks for challenges that are out there and when she gets on campus and sees her teammates, she’s going to latch onto those girls and see what she can do,” Underwood said. “So with her mindset, she will allow her teammates to help make her better. There’s always going to be adjustments in the next step up. There are a lot of tremendous runners at the next level, whether you’re in NAIA, Division III or Division II or Division I, there are tons of talented runners out there.

“It will be an adjustment for her, but she is really strong in her beliefs. I think it will be challenging for her, but getting in with a great program and other runners who are near her level will push her, and that will take her to where she wants to go.”

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