by Merrie Sue Holtan
Photography by Thru Him Photography
Kennedy Conzemius, a Breckenridge High School senior, is far from done with athletics. In fact, she’s just getting started. At nearly 6’1”, this three-sport athlete and three-time all-conference pick may still be growing taller. Her 23-inch vertical jump would brand her as a sure-fire middle hitter in volleyball and a certain center in basketball. But wait. That’s much too constraining for Kennedy.
“I don’t like when people (and coaches) put limits on me,” she says. “I don’t like to be told to stay in one spot/position. Never say I can’t do it, because I can prove you wrong.”
So there it is. Competitive Kennedy playing “all the way” around the court in Cowgirl volleyball and shooting three pointers from the outside in basketball. In the 2014 volleyball season, Kennedy brought 280 kills, 56 solo blocks, 42 aces, and 227 digs. Her most impressive statistic includes a 3.85 grade point average.
“When I was growing up, in any setting, I was always known as the ‘tall girl,’” Kennedy recalls. “So it was natural for me to begin varsity as a sophomore middle hitter. I wasn’t taught how to play close to the ground. But I do love to hit hard so others can’t get the ball.” Camps and college Kennedy began playing volleyball around third grade in the Breckenridge recreational system. Later, she attended local and regional volleyball camps at North Dakota State College of Science, Concordia College and North Dakota State University. As she progressed, several trainers from Sanford Health worked on her “quick feet” speed and weight training in the off-season and pre-season to complement the skill development volleyball experiences set up by Cowboy coach Linda Hillestad.
“Kennedy is a class act,” Linda says. “She comes in for help and applies what she learned the next day. She shows good character in her kindness to coaches and teammates. She helps the youngest players and stays after practice to make sure uniforms are ready. She works hard in school, on the court and in life. All while smiling at you.”
Coach Hillestad noticed Kennedy’s potential to be a top player. They worked on serving and improved her back row play so she could become an all-around force. In most varsity games, Kennedy barely sat down, a tribute to her strength and endurance training. Linda mentored Kennedy and suggested she attend the Midwest Volleyball Instructors summer Elite training camp at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.
“So I went,” Kennedy says. “I was a bit afraid at first because I was the only player to go from our team. But I wanted to get better and met so many new people and great coaches.”
At the camp, college and high school coaches evaluated the players based on their positions and other strengths such as hitting, height and approach. It was great exposure for Kennedy who of course told them, “She didn’t want to be limited to one position.”
“The coaches showed us two ways to do our skills and let us pick what seemed to work for us,” Kennedy says. “I knew basic footwork, but we learned the ‘fancy stuff.’ And playing against higher level players really helped me.”
After the camp experiences, other parents did not recognize Kennedy as the same player, playing all positions and breaking records during her junior and senior seasons. The spark caught on, and this year eight Cowgirl players went to the summer MVI camp.
While at camp, Kennedy had her “a ha” moment and decided she wanted to play volleyball in college. Because of two summers at MVI, college recruiters contacted Kennedy. She narrowed her
choices to the University of Wisconsin, Superior, and the University of Jamestown (North Dakota). On November 24, 2014 she committed to play for Jamestown and will major in physical therapy.
“I met the Jamestown coach, Jon Hegele, at MVI camp, and I loved his style,” Kennedy says. “He really taught me defense. I realized that these coaches wouldn’t have given me a look if it hadn’t been for camp. It was then I decided that I controlled my own future.”
“I am very excited to have Kennedy join our program,” says coach Hegele. “She will be a great complement to our team culture and has a tremendous team-first mentality. I’m looking forward to seeing her growth as a Jimmie.”
Hoops and jumping, too For now, Kennedy’s focus has turned to putting balls in the net for Cowgirl basketball. She has played recreational basketball since third grade and has attended several camps including the Top 100 Minnesota Expo at St. Benedict’s University in St. Joseph, Minnesota. She signed up for a profile which brought her emails and inquiries from MIAC, Division III and
Division II basketball coaches. She toyed with playing two collegiate sports, but quickly realized that a physical therapy major, leading to a doctorate degree, will take plenty of study time. As in
volleyball, Kennedy has branched out to several positions on the basketball court hitting jump shots and three pointers. In the off-season, she’s played with a core of Breckenridge players who have
placed high in regional summer basketball tournaments such as the Great State Tournament at the Target Center in Minneapolis and added to her resume playing AAU basketball for a regional traveling team. Cowgirl basketball coach, Dennis Sumption, believes Kennedy’s work ethic has allowed her to take her God-given talents to the next level. “A tireless worker outside of athletics to help those in need, she is the true definition of a Cowgirl and stands tall in Breckenridge,” he says.
Kennedy has served as captain for both teams, and she leads by example, doing behind the scenes work and getting done what needs to be done. She also believes it’s important to take care of people and issues and has some tips for young athletes.
“If a coach is ignoring you, that is the time to worry,” she says. “If a coach is ‘on you’ it means he or she is trying to make you better. Also forget the team drama and keep your head in the game.”
Kennedy also practices rituals on game day. She chooses to stay at school but runs to Subway and orders the same sandwich – until the team loses, and then she changes the order. “I always dress for a game in a certain way,” she says, “always.”
Jumping emerges as a common theme for Kennedy as she heads towards her final spring track season where she participates in the high jump, long jump and triple jump. In addition to Cowgirl sports, Kennedy also helps with Cowgirl Camps for younger athletes and in the recreational system, works as a teaching assistant for a fourth grade teacher, and job shadows a physical therapist as an internship.
Kennedy grew up with a large clan on both sides of her family who have a “sports orientation.” Chellee, Kennedy’s mom, an architect for Foss Architecture and Interiors in Fargo, was also a three-sport high school athlete and played both basketball and volleyball for successful teams at Wahpeton State School of Science. BC (Brian), her dad, played football and golf, and now runs the family farm. Many show up to Kennedy’s games including her 9-year-old brother, Joey, aunts, uncles, cousins and both sets of grandparents.
BC and Chellee are grateful for the many people who have helped to shape and mentor Kennedy into a focused and determined young woman on and off the court.
“We are extremely proud of her accomplishments, leadership, service and character – core values that will afford her continued success in the future,” Chellee says. “She is motivated and driven to
excel both academically and athletically.”