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CARROLL SAINTS’ NEWEST RUNNING RECRUITS

The Fighting Saints have big plans by bringing in three amazing small-town runners
Carrol College Logo
Courtesy of Carrol College
Carrol College Logo

Is Carroll in a position to be a threat at the NAIA tournament in the next few years? Well, they just made a power move by signing three track-cross-country superstars.

On December 14th, 2023 Claire Bucklin (Sunburst MT) signed with Carroll’s track team,  Braedyn Johnson  (Cascade MT) followed right behind her signing with Carroll on  January 3rd, 2024. Finally, the most recent recruit is Nikki Nau (Sunburst MT) who signed on January 19th, 2024. 

 Current State of Carroll’s track team

Carroll College is a private catholic school in Helena, Montana that has both men’s and women’s indoor/outdoor track teams. They compete at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA) level.  The men came in the top 20 last year at the NAIA outdoor track and field national championship beating the two other Montana teams that were there. 

Well, they just made a power move by signing three track-cross-country superstars.

 

The Saints opened their indoor season in Bozeman at the Bobcat preview on December 7th. Carroll’s newspaper gave us a view of how the saints performed at the meet. Twenty-nine Saints competed in Bozeman, but the highlight of the meet was sophomore Tate Kauffman who came in second in the triple jump and locked a spot for himself at the national indoor meet in March. Other big takeaways from this meet were Connor O’Hara runniong his personal best in the 5000m (just barely missing the qualifying time by 6 seconds). Additionally, Nicole Morgen made her debut in the 5000m, which tied with her track career personal best; Chloe Gallagher also had a good vault, but was just shy at qualifying for pole vault by half of an inch. 

The Saints head coach over the last 12 years has been Harry Clark. So far, Clark has coached 168 Carroll athletes to become NAIA all-Americans (averaging 12 all-Americans in track every year). All-American is an honor given annually to the most outstanding college athletes across the nation. Clark himself was an outstanding athlete winning back-to-back championships in 1983-84, receiving 22 medals (11 of them being gold) and earning a spot in the Montana High School Association Hall of Fame in 2014.  He became an all-American athlete at Montana State setting the yet unbroken record at MSU for the decathlon with 7633 points. 

Claire Bucklin 

Claire Bucklin is an outstanding senior at Sunburst High who excels at multiple sports – but she shines on the track. Claire has been doing track for the last six years. She started in 6th grade and hasn’t stopped since (with the exception of COVID, which canceled her 8th-grade year).  She has done trial and error with a few events, but as of late her event lineup includes the following events: 100m, 200m, 400m, 100m hurdles, 300m hurdles, 4×100 relay, and long jump. 

Ever since she stepped on the MCPS track at Big Sky High School in Missoula as a freshman, she has blown the state away with her progress. 

Claire said that her freshman year was the year she knew that she wanted to go to college for track because, “I got 3rd at state in the 300 hurdles and I was like ‘Wow, I could be pretty good at this’”. 

Claire had an interest in three schools: MSU, UM, and Carrol; after meeting with all three programs, she eventually chose to run for Carroll. She said that what drove her to pick Carroll was the simple fact that “They had a great coach and a great atmosphere with the team”. 

It has been quite a journey getting to run college track for Claire. In her junior year, she got Infectious Mononucleosis during district basketball. Mono is a virus that is spread through saliva and can stay in your system for months. Claire said that one of the hardest times for her was “Getting mono, almost dying when my liver, gallbladder, and spleen doubled in size, and then being put on bed rest one month before the season started”.  

Ironically, Claire’s best season was that very year of her extended illness. She came back to the track straight from bed rest, but could only exert her body so much and was forced to eliminate multiple events from her lineup. She worked all season to get back to where she was last year; at state, she pulled her biggest comeback of the year and won the 100m hurdles. Claire also holds a district record and two Sunburst school records. 

Running for Carroll is the end of the road for Claire with competitive running. She has no plans on continuing with track after she gives her four years. She is going to major in biology to become a pediatrician.

Claire signing with Carroll
(Courtesy of Instagram)

Braedyn Johnson

Top-notch senior at Cascade High School, Braedyn Johnson, leads the Badgers in multiple sports. But what she excels at is track. 

Braedyn has been doing track for five years; she started in 7th grade, but her middle school track career got cut short by the hands of COVID. Braedyn has almost completely switched up her events from middle school to high school with the expectation of a few.  As of right now, her lineup includes participation in the 100m, 200m, 4×100 relay, 4×400 relay, high jump, long jump, and triple jump. 

Braedyn has been chasing her collegiate dreams since freshman year.  She explained why freshman year was important, stating that “After [she] went to state track freshman year for the 4×400”. In that race, she felt a thrill, got hungry to compete, and loved that she was “on a team, yet competing individually”.

Coach Clark is a Cascade High alumni who has helped Braedyn develop her jumping and sprinting skills. He has taught her much of what has made her successful at track.  She appreciated the frequent communication between her and Clark, and Carroll was her biggest interest in college.

The road to running for Carroll hasn’t been smooth for Braedyn. Last season she injured her knee during the triple jump, leaving her unable to practice or compete for weeks.  

Even a few weeks can make or break a season depending on when you get your injury. “I was not able to compete for 3 weeks and then I could only do a couple sprint events for 2 weeks after that”. 

Despite her knee injuries, Braedyn did not disappoint with her triple jump performance. For the last two years, she has been the defending northern C divisional champion with jumps of 32’9.5’’ her sophomore year and 34’0’’ last year, which is her new triple jump PR. 

Running for Carroll may or may not be the end of the road for Braedyn’s competitive running career. She doesn’t know yet what her plans are for track, but she would love to continue running at a high level after college. After college, she dreams of pursuing photography, physical therapy, or other sports medicine-related professions.

Braedyn signing with Carrol (Courtesy of Instagram)

Nikki Nau 

Nikki Nau is a remarkable senior at Sunburst High, and she calls attention in every sport she competes in. Nikki started track in the 6th grade…and just like the other two girls, she loster her 8th grade year. Her event lineup so far includes the 800m, 1600m, 3200m, 4×100 relay, and triple jump. 

Nikki’s start to cross country was a little bit different than normal. She never thought about doing XC when she entered high school. She said, “If you had told freshmen me that I would ever run XC, I would have laughed”. Things changed in her sophomore year when her school did not have enough girls to play volleyball, leaving her without a fall sport. She decided to try XC that fall. Nikki discovered that running was her calling and has been in love with it ever since. 

Nikki didn’t originally have any plans about running in college, but after being contacted by Carroll’s head XC coach Shannon Flynn she started to consider college running. She made a trip out to Carroll to visit the team and saw how welcoming everyone was, realizing they were more a family than a team. After that visit, she knew that she was going to run for them. 

Getting to college running level has been a rollercoaster for Nikki. Her Junior year they had the XC 3rd place state trophy taken away from them because of a miscalculation of points. “That was really hard and disappointing,” Nikki said, but it motivated her team to come back and win the state trophy the next year. 

Besides the rollercoaster of her athletic career, Nikki has achieved a great deal. She earned 4th at the XC state meet this year and has set school records in the 5k, 800m, 1600m, and 3200m. In addition, the cross country team got 3rd place this year at state, which is the first-ever state XC trophy in school history. 

College is where Nikki is ending her running career, but she hopes to continue to run for the rest of her life and someday hopes to run a marathon. Nikki wants to become a physical therapist and plans to get her undergraduate degree in health sciences or biology and then she will get her Master’s Degree. 

Carrol’s Instagram post about Nikki signing (Courtesy of Instagram)

Future of Carroll’s Running 

Playing a sport in college is difficult, and only 7% of high school athletes go on to make a college team. 

Claire, Braedyn, and Nikki have already beaten the odds of getting to run college track and XC. Based on their high school records, work ethics, and victories it’s not surprising that they are a part of that 7%. 

Carroll still has time to become the threat they want to be as a track team and possible contender for winning the NAIA tournament; Claire, Braedyn, and Nikki signing has ensured that Carrol’s running teams will be on the rise for the next few years. 

 

About the Contributor
Avery Bucklin, Reporter
Quick and painful is the way to go