Reed City's Kiaunis headed to Southern Illinois

REED CITY — A desire to be able to run more is natural for runners.

Abbigail Kiaunis took it a step further.

She's tired of running and training in frigid northern Michigan.

So the Reed City High School senior found her collegiate fit in Southern Illinois University. Kiaunis signed her National Letter of Intent for cross country and women's track with the NCAA Division I school in Carbondale, Illinois on Thursday.

Carbondale is located in the southwestern tip of the state and about 550 miles from Reed City.

Kiaunis' attraction to Southern Illinois is two-fold and once she learned more about the school, she found another connection, too.

"The big attraction is that I wanted an ag school," she said. "and going further south would let me run more, too.

"The team is awesome. I love their coach and his philosophy on training is similar to my coach here."

She's yet to visit the campus because of COVID-19 restrictions but has plans to get there over spring break in late March if conditions allow.

While Kiaunis looked at Michigan State and Northwood, the chance to compete in better weather earlier in the spring won out.

Southern Illinois cross country coach Kevin Cataldo is the connection. Cataldo is a Suttons Bay native who ran collegiately at Oakland University in Rochester. He spent a couple of years as a graduate assistant at Michigan State under Walt Drenth before becoming an assistant coach at Butler University in Indianapolis and then the University of Delaware.

He'll enter his fourth season at the helm of Southern Illinois' program this year.

"Abby comes all the way from northern Michigan, which is close to my hometown," Cataldo said of Kiaunis. "Having that connection really helped us out in her recruitment. She really clicked with the team throughout this recruiting process. She's got a ton of range and will really be of value to our middle distance group in addition to helping us out on the cross country course."

Kiaunis picked up competitive running in middle school and getting to this point has been a dream ever since.

"It kind of all started when I got an interest in middle school," she said. "Running is kind of a getaway place for me.

"It's kind of fun to see people's faces when I want to go for a cool-down jog after running hard for three miles."

It's worked out for her, though.

Kiaunis recently finished 12th at the MHSAA Division 3 Cross Country State Finals in 19:19 and she's got a PR of 18:58 for a 5K. She also holds Reed City records in track in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs.

She's got her sights set on another record this year, too, in addition to closing things out strong at the track state finals.

"I want to be a state champion but I don't know in what event yet," Kiaunis said. "I just want to qualify in as many events as I can.

"And I want to break the school 400-meter record."

That record stands at 56.0 seconds, held by standout Sami Michell. Kiaunis' PR in the event heading into the spring is 59.95 seconds.

Kiaunis' other passion comes in with working with animals and that's what's leading her to major in agri-business or animal science at Southern Illinois.

She's been a member of 4-H most of her life and shows horses, goats, turkeys, chickens and ducks.

"I pretty much have a small hobby farm," she laughed. "but I've always had a love for cows, too.

"I am thinking of working in the beef and dairy cow industry."

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