by Brent Rogness
Photography by Jeremy Petrick Photography
For Aaron Werth, settling in for the evening at his home along the 15th tee at The Meadows Golf Course in Moorhead wasn’t always an easy task.
But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
And the problem had nothing to do with gregarious teebox banter or wayward long irons.
“I don’t know how many countless nights I had to turn the TV up because directly below our living room is the hockey tarp in the basement… hearing thump after thump after thump, for years, for hours on end,” says Aaron.
The racket below often came from his fiercely driven daughter Kara, expending her endless fount of energy on a quest toward hockey excellence.
Over the course of five years, the hard work has paid off for the Moorhead High School senior, who recently committed to play collegiately at the University of North Dakota next season.
While Kara has also played soccer and run track as a Spud, she decided early that she wanted to narrow her most intense focus down to one sport.
“When I was about 13, I decided I was going to play college hockey and I was going to play Division I,” says Kara. “I pretty much devoted every single day to stick handling, eating healthy – every day – and doing everything I could to become a Division I hockey player.”
Part of the discovery process was aided by her high school coach, Emily Sell, a Williston native who played one season at UND, followed by three more at Concordia in Moorhead.
“I give credit to coach Sell. She was a college player herself,” observes Aaron. “She was really helpful for guidance through this whole process because she’d been there before.”
While the hard work has always come naturally for Kara, it took her a little while to realize how, where, and when to best apply her skills on the ice.
“My coach has helped me realize the more simple I play, the better
I am. Even if I don’t show all my skill in one play, it’s okay,” says Kara. “I was actually a late recruit because I didn’t figure out my style of play. I overcomplicated everything. Had
I simplified, I think I could have been recruited earlier.”
In Sell’s opinion, it was never a matter of whether Kara could play college hockey, it was a matter of how far she could take her talent and skate with it.
I knew from the first time I was on the ice with her that she was a college player,” Sell says. “I just wasn’t sure whether it was Division III or Division I.”
Kara’s off-season work in the CCM High Performance program, which Sell coached, vaulted Kara and her college opportunities to new heights.
“At the High Performance Festival in the spring (of 2016), you started seeing her turn the corner and become more of a complete player, fitting her skill set into the team game,” says Sell. “That’s when it started becoming apparent we probably had a Division I player on our hands.”
After seriously considering offers from East Coast schools such as Brown and Dartmouth, Kara eventually narrowed her choices down to St. Cloud State and UND.
Reaching the top level of collegiate athletics in any sport often requires at least one or two specific skill sets that are at an elite level. For Kara, one attribute that stands out is somewhat of a rarity in girls high school hockey.
“The big thing, I think everybody recognizes, is her shot,” remarks Sell. “She has one of the hardest shots I’ve ever seen from a girl and she’s able to get it off quickly. She can one-time it pretty effectively.”
The slap shot development was inspired by Kara’s dad. A self-described “park hockey rat,” Aaron didn’t play organized high school hockey but spent countless hours on the outdoor rinks growing up on the north side of Moorhead. Aaron’s affinity toward hockey first rubbed off on Kara’s older brother Calvin, which ultimately made its way to Kara, who at first was just fighting to keep up.
Aaron is always willing to offer wisdom and guidance while walking the fine line of being a father and a practice partner. It was during these times Aaron pushed Kara to develop her signature skill.
“It’s kind of like in soccer, (Kara and I) would work on free kicks at the middle school,” says Aaron. “We’d spend time there practicing the ‘big kick.’”
“We did the same thing years ago in developing the slap shot. She put in the hours downstairs… It’s a big part of the game,” says Aaron, who helped Kara develop a rubber band system in the basement that allows the puck to kick back to her so she can practice her one-timers.
“If you can master that, the change of direction to get a goalie moving across the crease on a one-timer, it opens up a lot of opportunities.”
Skills on the Ice,Smarts off the Ice
Kara’s dedication to hockey is only rivaled by her desire to first succeed in the classroom. She’s on pace to graduate at or near the top of her class, noting she particularly enjoys math and science.
“I take pride in my academics. My parents always stress academics first, then everything else. I’m hopefully on the road to valedictorian (4.0).”
For Aaron and his wife, Darlene, academics have always been the emphasis.
“We didn’t really have to push sports,” says Aaron. “We’ve pushed grades and sports was secondary. Kara and my son have been successful that way.”
At the same time, Aaron is quick to credit Darlene for keeping academics on track while he embraces the role of the athletic mentor.
“She’s the one that sits down and makes sure the homework is done,” says Aaron of Darlene. “I’m the one that would be outside working on her free kicks for soccer. Active on my part, and more controlled and structured on my wife’s part.”
While her parents certainly have a role in her success, Werth also credits her ability to excel in multiple sports and within the walls of Moorhead High to a strict attentiveness to nutrition.
“I like to cook a lot. I’m a health nut. I like to find different things to make,” says Kara, adding one of her favorites dishes is a kale and spinach stir fry with chicken.
Sell recalls a situation at last year’s CCM High Performance Festival that succintly sums up Kara’s stingy commitment to healthy nutrition.
“It was one of our player’s birthdays, so I picked up cupcakes. I picked up a raspberry lemonade one and (teammates) were trying to figure out how to get Kara to eat it,” remembers Sell. “She never puts anything into her body that isn’t good.”
The playful prank enjoyed short-lived success.
“We had her going that it was an organic, fruit-based cupcake and she took two bites and realized it was not that,” says Sell, quick to recuse herself by noting it was out of hockey season. “I’m pretty sure (teammate) Marissa Herdt had to eat the rest of it for her.”
Ultimately, while nutrition is certainly an aspect of Kara’s success, Sell points out her championship-level leadership and passion for the daily grind of hockey will point her toward success.
“She’s very driven to be the best. I think anyone that’s around her wants to keep up,” says Sell. “She’s got that high-achiever mentality.”
Let’s just hope the high achiever is able to find a dorm fridge with ample space for spinach and kale. FMSV