Athlete of the week: Cassie Ortberg, Zimmerman, track: Senior trifecta

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Cassie Ortberg was Zimmerman’s homecoming queen last fall, got the Athena award as best female athlete last month, and is about to wrap up valedictorian, too. With a nice little trifecta like that, she should be remembered for a while at ZHS.

“I suppose so,” she smiled sheepishly. “That would be nice.”

Ortberg is heading into her final track-and-field season, her best sport. A three-time state qualifier, she was runner-up in 300 hurdles last June, in ZHS’s first year in Class AA, after placing fifth in Class A in 10th grade. She was also a state 100H qualifier in 9th and 10th and long jump last year.

Cassie Ortberg was state Class AA runner-up in the 300 hurdles last year. She has also qualified for state in 100 hurdles and long jump. (Photo by Rick Ornsdorf)
Cassie Ortberg was state Class AA runner-up in the 300 hurdles last year. She has also qualified for state in 100 hurdles and long jump. (Photo by Rick Ornsdorf)

“Cassie was very good in the mile, too, in junior high, and would do well in sprints if we put her there,” coach Jennelle LeBlanc said. “She is one of those athletes you can put anywhere and she’ll do great.”

Ortberg, 5-foot-7-inches and 111 pounds, is light, limber and fluid, with a long stride, needing just a three-step rhythm in the 100 hurdles (four  and five are more common). LeBlanc spotted her raw talent as an eighth-grader on the first day of practice.

“I kind of got stuck in the hurdles and couldn’t get out,” Ortberg said good-naturedly. “We had a ‘try-everything day,’ where you go around to stations and try every event. When I did hurdles, I thought I was complete mess and would never in my life be a hurdler. And one day she said, ‘OK, you’re coming to the hurdles!’”

“With some people, you can tell right away that they have that grace you need to go over the hurdles, while others, you see that bunny hop,” LeBlanc said.

When it’s going right, you’re “gliding over hurdles so it feels like nothing is there,” said Ortberg, when asked what she likes about her signature event.

In the ZHS record book, she is tops in the 300H (44.29) and 100H (15.47) and second in long jump (17-4 1/2). Her other event is high jump.

Bright and well-liked as her awards attest, Ortberg is team captain. “She is a pleasure to have on the team,” said LeBlanc, praising her work ethic, cheery nature and helpfulness.

Ortberg got her sliver medal (best-ever for a Thunder trackster) with her PR of 44.29, behind a Thief River Falls eighth-grader. She had placed second in the section in both 300H (45.42) and long jump (17-2) to advance to state, where she got faster in hurdles while having an off-day in long jump (15-10).

In conference, Ortberg won both hurdle races in the Granite Ridge last year, and in 10th grade won 300H and took second in 100H and long jump in the Mississippi 8.

She ran the 1600 in grades 7-8 and started the 300H in eighth and 100H in ninth when she dropped the 1600. “I’m glad I got out of that,” she grins. “Nothing against it, distance runners are great athletes, but I got a little bored.”

Orberg helped the volleyball team post a 21-8 record and reach the section finals last fall in her first varsity season as a back-row defender and occasional right-side hitter.

“We went pretty far this year and the whole season was a lot of fun playing with those girls and just being goofy. I can be more laid back and not put so much pressure on myself.”

She was also a starting guard in basketball in ninth and 11th grades, but didn’t play in 10th and 12th.

Ortberg plans to continue in track at UM-Duluth and major in chemistry.


Cassie Ortberg
Cassie Ortberg

Personal file — Age: 18 … Family: parents John and Janet; younger siblings Janessa and Ben … Sports: track, volleyball, formerly basketball … Academics: 4.02 GPA … Other activities: NHS, Link, Web, prom committee … College plans: UM-Duluth, track, chemistry
Favorite stuff — Class: Physics and AP Calculus … TV show: “How I Met Your Mother” … Movie: “Footloose” (both the original and remake) … Music: Country, 100 percent! … Reading: Joy Piccault novels … Food: My grandmother’s cranberry chicken alfredo … Drink: ice tea … Kickback activities: swimming, boating, snow-boarding