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Niwot track teammates Joelle McDonald, Elise Gillett eager to bolster CU roster

Duo joins short list of BoCo athletes to head to Boulder to compete

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:
May 18, 2019: Kaitlin James, Silver ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Elise Gillett of Niwot, center, will join the CU track and field team in 2020-21.

Carving a spot on the University of Colorado’s track and field program started out as something of a pipedream for Niwot athletes Elise Gillett and Joelle McDonald.

Just so happens, it’s the setting for a reunion.

Working across dissimilar paths before finalizing their next steps in Boulder, Gillett and McDonald will rejoin each other following successful high school careers with the Cougars.

With the high school spring season officially canceled Tuesday, their eyes now fixate across town to their place among one of the nation’s most prestigious programs.

Soaking it in, “this is paradise to me,” McDonald said.

At the outset of recruitment, meeting back up as college teammates wasn’t the ultimate plan for the two seniors. In fact, it wasn’t much of a conversation at all during the process, they said.

Instead, McDonald congratulated Gillett when she signed her scholarship as a multi-event athlete back in the fall. Gillett then reached out in excitement when McDonald finalized as a recruited walk-on with the Buffs, where she’ll run distance with the track and field and cross country programs.

“We never really talked about it and it didn’t come up that much,” McDonald said. “But the day she signed with CU I was very excited for her. I knew she wanted to go and it’s very hard to get recruited to CU — which we both experienced.”

For McDonald, the chance to stay in Boulder and join a decorated program was a no-brainer.

She was a sought-after recruit, making her name known during a successful career under Cougars distance coach Kelly Christensen.

She had other scholarship offers. But turned them down.

“I mean a lot of kids my age sign to get away from home… but for me I didn’t really feel a reason to leave,” said McDonald, who finished 13th at the state meet last fall as the Cougars won the 4A state title. “It’s an understatement to say they have a good reputation as a program, so that was definitely part of it. And I just love Boulder and Colorado.”

Niwot High School's Joelle McDonald accepts ...
Jeremy Papasso/ Staff Photographer
Niwot’s Joelle McDonald, right, should add depth to distance events for CU track as well as cross country.

Gillett, on the other hand, worked herself into a multi-sport athlete in order to stand out and create more opportunity.

Already proven as one of the state’s premier sprinters and hurdlers — trumped at last spring’s state track meet with multiple podium finishes — the senior competed in heptathlons (seven events) and pentathlons (five) starting last summer.

CU noticed.

“I thought I had a good chance at being recruited for that, and if I had the opportunity to be recruited for it, I wanted that opportunity,” said Gillett, who has turned heads as a master of events in performances at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic Championships and the Air Force High School Open, among others.

And now, “I love it,” she said.

The Niwot seniors join programs packed with shining area athletes from the past. The Buffs’ distance team includes Peak to Peak’s Anna Shults and Monarch’s Holly Bent and Karina Mann. Elsewhere, Broomfield’s Joy Fifita is throwing and Mead’s Abbey Glynn is a part of sprints and hurdles.