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Ayla (Mitchell) Helland is shown during her collegiate career competing for the UW-Oshkosh women's cross country team.

Ayla Mitchell named to WIAC all-time cross country team

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Former New Richmond state champion Ayla (Mitchell) Helland has received a highly prestigious honor recognizing her running career.

Helland has been named to the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference All-Time Women's Cross Country Team.

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Helland ran from 2007 through 2009 for UW-Oshkosh.

As a senior at Oshkosh, Helland won the 1,500 and 5,000 meter women's outdoor national track titles in 2009. She also won the NCAA national indoor mile championship in 2009. She finished third in the NCAA women's Division 3 cross country national championships in 2008. Because of her standout performances in cross country and track, Mitchell was named the WIAC Female Athlete of the Year for 2009.

Between track and cross country, Helland was an NCAA Division 3 All-American nine times in her three seasons at Oshkosh.

Helland won the WIAA Division 2 800 meter state track championship in 2005 for New Richmond. She was also a member of New Richmond's state championship 3,200 meter relay team in her freshman season, along with Abby Demulling, Kara Peterson and Leslie Sorum. In cross country, Mitchell ran at the WIAA state meet in all four of her high school seasons. She finished 16th at state as a freshman, ninth as a sophomore, sixth as a junior and eighth as a senior.

Helland said she wasn't aware that the WIAC was naming an all-time team and she was quite honored to be included in the group. She is one of the leading runners of the past generation in the WIAC. She was a two-time WIAC cross country champion, taking second place in her other conference season.

Between high school and Oshkosh, Helland competed for the University of Minnesota. She said that at the Roy Griak Invitational during her junior season at NRHS, she discovered her goals for her college career.

"I knew I wanted to go to a Division 1 Big Ten team. Minnesota had the best middle distance program so it all fit together nicely," she said.

While she loved the Gopher program and she began to see success, she soon discovered it wasn't the right fit. After growing up on a farm, she never felt comfortable there.

"I didn't really like the big city. The only reason I went to the U of M was to run," she said.

She looked around for a smaller school that was the best fit. She said Oshkosh quickly rose to the top, because of the program.

"I had to find a college that fit all aspects of my life," Helland said.

A big part of her success, she said, was the support of her family. She said her family would road trip to see every one of her conference and national races.

After graduating from Oshkosh, Helland was hired this year as a science teacher at Somerset Middle School. She is also a newlywed. She married Baldwin native Travis Helland in August.

The coach chosen for the WIAC All-Time Team is former UW-Oshkosh coach Deb Vercauteren, who coached from 1981 through 2010. Among the many runners who competed for the Titans under Vercauteren were Helland, former New Richmond runner and current Titan McKenzie Kelly, and recently retired Somerset cross country coach Diane Belter.

All-Time Team members will receive certificates from the conference and it is hoped that most, if not all, of the recipients will be in attendance or represented at the WIAC Centennial Banquet to be held at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison on Aug. 4, 2012.

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Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
(715) 243-7767 x242
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