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Sports Nutritionist Ellen Davis Excited For Journey At Gilbert

Davis to begin working with high school student-athletes on May 4

As a high school athlete, Ellen Davis constantly raised eyebrows, and that’s not hyperbole. She went by Ellen Ries back then when she put together one of the most decorated running careers in the history of Iowa high school athletics.

How fast could she run the 800 meters? As fast as she needed to in order to reach the finish line first. Seriously. She was that good. Her long stride, her focus, and her talent were equaled only by her competitive drive.

If she was in the race, the odds were good — pretty close to 100 percent, actually — that everyone else was battling for second. And every single one of those other runners knew it too.

Over her four years at North Linn High School, Davis won 13 state track titles and two state cross country crowns. She was a Drake Relays champion as well before embarking on a collegiate career at the University of Missouri.

And that’s where her story took a turn. In the short-term, it was for the worse. But as she looks back now at the big picture, she knows everything happened for a reason.

Those low moments? They made her into the person she is today, someone who dedicates her professional life to helping student-athletes learn the things she didn’t necessarily know as a 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old.

Davis was bitten by the injury bug over and over again during her early years at Missouri. An ankle injury just four weeks into her freshman year was just the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of three years, she sustained five stress fractures and no one could answer the most important question: Why?

“It was a hamster wheel of pain and sadness and a lot of fatigue,” Davis says now, thinking back to those early days at Missouri.

Davis went in search of her own answers and, thankfully, that led her in the direction of the dietetics program at Missouri. She learned about nutrition, about fueling her body, about how the food you put in your body is not only vital to performance, but also recovery.

It paid substantial dividends. By the time Davis exited Missouri, she had earned all-Big 12 honors and qualified for the 1,500 at the NCAA Championships.

“Part of me was a little frustrated because what could have been had I figured it out in the beginning, but the other end of the rope is that it happened for a reason,” Davis says. “I knew graduating from Mizzu that being a sports dietician would be my future.”

Welcome to Gilbert

Davis’s backstory is paramount to the present, as she gets set to embark on a new journey working with Gilbert High School’s student-athletes, their families, and our coaches over the next eight months. With the support of the Gilbert Athletic Boosters, Davis, who is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, was contracted through the end of the calendar year.

“The Gilbert activities department is so excited to have Ellen Davis on board with us,” Gilbert Activities Director Ian Smith said. “Her experience and knowledge as a sports nutritionist will give our student-athletes another tool to be able to be at their best on the field and in the  classroom.”

Davis has spent the better part of the past 14 years working in the performance nutrition field. In July of 2022, she launched The Performance Collective with the focus on supporting student-athletes in the complexities of nutrition, recovery, and injury prevention. It’s a collaborative effort, as she partners with sports physicians, sports psychologists, mental performance specialists, and other healthcare professionals to treat the athlete as a whole.

“My goals are to enhance performance, recovery and injury prevention using nutrition,” Davis says. “But my primary goal at the end of the day is to support student-athletes as human beings, not just student-athletes. I want to support their physical, mental, and social well being with nutrition.”

This isn’t just a job to Davis. This is a passion. A calling. And she treats all of the individuals she works with as such.

“It’s impossible not to see myself in the eyes of the people I’m talking to,” she says. “What I love most about what I do are the people I meet and the long relationships I develop with the students, their families, and the communities.

“I like to see my athletes win, but it means more to me when they call me or send me a picture of their prom dress, or whatever is meaningful to them at that moment. That’s what I’ll remember forever.”

Davis brings her knowledge to Gilbert where she hopes to cultivate a positive culture that utilizes food as the secret weapon. She will have her initial meeting with student-athletes on May 4, and over the summer months she will meet with respective teams. Student-athletes will also have the opportunity to meet with her on an individual basis.

“I will personally be onsite for the large group meetings on a monthly basis,” Davis says. “We will focus on topics like fueling fundamentals: Why is nutrition important for performance recovery and injury prevention? We’ll talk about how to have a positive relationship with food, and we’ll talk about hydration.”

Davis says student-athletes will learn how the proper nutrition boosts the immunity system, and how it enhances the quality of sleep as well.

Parents will also have the opportunity to interact with Davis through Zoom meetings on a monthly basis. Those will occur the third Wednesday at noon each month, and Davis says all of those meetings will be recorded for those parents that are unable to attend. Davis will have a presentation for parents each month, and there will also be time for parents to ask questions.

Gilbert’s coaches will meet with Davis bi-monthly. She says a big focus with the coaches will center around Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-s), which is a syndrome of poor health and declining athletic performance that happens when athletes do not get enough fuel through food to support the energy demands of their daily lives and training.

“At least 60 percent of high school athletes are affected by RED-s,” Davis says. “It causes a lot of complications … that was what affected me (in college).”

She’ll work with the coaches on cultivating a positive fueling culture and how to promote a positive attitude with food and workouts, among other things.

In her initial meeting with parents on Wednesday, Davis stressed that she’s not the food police. Not now and not ever. But if she can help to give our student-athletes nutrition knowledge, she’s confident it will be one more piece in place to help them succeed.


Tigers take girls’ 4×800, Wadsley in boys’ 3,200, and middle school medley relays to Drake Relays

To hear Gilbert long distance coach Laura Kautman describe it, Charlie Bucket had an easier time securing his golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory than her girls’ 4×800-meter relay did in grabbing a hold of its precious spot in this week’s Drake Relays.

Let’s cut to the end for a quick moment: The quartet of Clare Stahr, Sophia Bleich, Keira Andersen, and Sarah Feddersen is in the star-studded event scheduled to hit the blue oval inside Drake Stadium in Des Moines Saturday morning at 10:25 a.m. But it wasn’t easy.

For starters, in an attempt to cut its time significantly, the group borderline pleaded with Ames High School for entry into a meet with some heavy hitters last Tuesday. The Tigers finally got the go-ahead and, boy, did they perform.

Stahr, Bleich, Andersen, and Feddersen turned in a blazing 9:37.22 at Ames to meet the blue standard and officially punch their ticket to Drake. They shaved nearly 13 seconds off their previous best and will enter Drake Stadium with the seventh-fastest time in the state regardless of class.

Are the girls surprised at how far they’ve come in such a short period this spring? Absolutely, and yet they all say their best is yet to come.

“For me personally, I’m super excited,” Bleich, a sophomore, said. “At the beginning of the season, if you would have told me that I’d be running at Drake, I would have been shocked. But I think we have a great team.”

“This was my high school goal, to qualify for the Drake Relays,” Stahr, a junior, said. “Seeing our hard work pay off this year with this great group of girls is just so cool to see. All of the hard work has come to fruition.”

Stahr went through pain — quite literally — to help the Tigers qualify. At the Ames meet, the lead-off runner had her heel stepped on by another competitor in the large pack early on and yet she still managed to keep Gilbert near the front while running most of her two laps with one shoe on and one shoe half-off. The back of her foot was bloody by the time she handed the baton to Bleich, but she did her job.

Bleich and Andersen, just a freshmen, turned in arguably their best races as well before Feddersen, a sophomore and first-year track and field participant, brought it home on the anchor.

“There’s a real drive between us,” Andersen said. “We want to push each other to be our best and run our fastest.”

Kautman says all four have been pleasant surprises this spring, but maybe none more than Feddersen, who has seamlessly cemented herself as the relay hammer. A competitive gymnast prior to the 2022-23 school year, she admits she didn’t really understand the significance of the Drake Relays until just recently.

“Coming (into the season) with no expectations and having never done track before, I didn’t even know how big of a deal Drake was,” Feddersen said as her relay mates chuckled around her. “But getting to watch our times drop and realizing it was actually achievable was really cool.”

Kautman recognizes Feddersen’s contributions as a first-year runner and says she’s quickly adapted herself to the competitive world of running.

“The part about Sarah I didn’t realize is she’s a fierce competitor,” Kautman said. “She’s toed the line with some of the state’s best and she’s raced right with them.

“In order to be an elite gymnast, I think you have to have the mental and physical pieces. Was she a surprise running wise? Absolutely, but when you see what she’d accomplished leading up to track, it’s not a surprise.”

Kautman speaks glowingly of all four of her runners. She knows that’s what it takes — four solid pieces — to compete at Drake.

And that’s exactly what Gilbert wants to do: compete at Drake. Yes, the girls are happy to be there amongst the best of the best. But when the race begins, just being happy to be there will no longer be good enough.

“We’re ready to compete at Drake,” Feddersen said.

Dubuque Hempstead enters Saturday’s 4×800 with the fastest time of 9:20.54, close to a 13-second gap over No. 2 seed Ankeny (9:33.31). The Nos. 2-7 seeds are separated by less than four seconds.

Wadsley Drake bound in 3,200

Gilbert senior William Wadsley admits it sheepishly — he was a scoreboard watcher.

In the days leading up to last Thursday’s Drake Relays cut-off, he checked the boys’ 3,200-meter leaderboard a couple times a day. Why? Because he was near that cut-off line for qualifying and to be known as a Drake Relays qualifier is something he really wanted.

“Two or three times a day, I would check it,” Wadsley said. “But I was just kind of leaving it up to God. Whatever he wants, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Fear not, William. You’re in.

Wadsley got the good news from Gilbert boys’ track and field coach Joel Franzen during a school assembly last Friday afternoon and to say he was excited would be an understatement.

“It definitely brought a smile to my face and joy flowed through my body,” Wadsley said.

Wadsley will be part of the field of 21 runners during Thursday’s distance carnival at Drake Stadium in Des Moines. The boys’ 3,200 is scheduled to hit the track at 5:52 p.m.

Fittingly enough, it was on the famed blue oval that Wadsley earned his spot among the best distance runners this state has to offer. At the Jim Duncan Relays on a cold and wet Saturday morning earlier this month, he turned in a career-best time of 9:33.27 and that was good enough to qualify. He beat his previous best time by a whopping 21 seconds.

And now he wants to complete the eight-lap race even faster.

“I had a goal going into this season that I wanted to get a 9:20 (plus), and with my qualifying time of 9:33, I think that’s totally achievable,” he said. “I’m really excited for a good time.”

Ford Washburn of Iowa City High has run the fastest 3,200 this season (9:00.73), followed by Pella’s Chase Lauman (9:15.30).

Middle School relays also headed to Drake

In addition to our high school athletes, the Gilbert Middle School track and field team will also be represented at this week’s Drake Relays.

Both middle school teams will take their 1,600 medley relay to Des Moines.

The girls’ medley — Sammy Johnson, Ella Andrews, Allie Grandgenett, Callie Hales, and alternate Emee Dani — will race at 5 p.m. on Friday.

The boys’ medley — Tayton Warg, Micah Leyva, Brandon Terry, Logan Bleich, and alternate Justin Sosnouski — will compete immediately following at 5:07 p.m. on Friday.

Only eight middle school teams across the state qualified for the girls’ and boys’ medley relay races. The Gilbert boys’ squad landed one of the coveted spots with a time of 4:12.20, while the girls’ group advanced with a clocking of 4:46.70.

Why Math Matters

GHS Students Welcome Panelists For Engaging Talk

Approximately 250 Gilbert High School students took part in the Math Speaker Panel yesterday afternoon in the auditorium. The gist of the talk — why math matters.

The group of speakers brought in to speak to the students included:

•Matt Thatcher, a Manufacturing Engineering Specialist at 3M.

•Dr. Beth Hartmann, a teaching professor at ISU with a background in engineering.

•Jerry Roche, a Transportation Safety Engineer at Federal Highway Administration, Office of Safety.

•Mike Francom, the Chief Fiscal Officer at ISU.

Each of the panelists gave background information and how math pertains to their everyday activities. Students then got the chance to ask questions of the panelists and they included:

•If you could go back and start over, is there anything you’d do differently?

•How has your high school education affected your everyday life?

•Are there any situations in your job that school didn’t prepare you for?

•What are a few of the most important skills in your profession?

•Why is math required for students in high school and college if they’re not intending to go into a math field?

The panelists talked about how math helps students to be problem solvers, regardless of the field they eventually pursue. And math plays a role in a number of fields, including art, finance, science, engineering, and so many more.

Some of the best quotes from the panelists:

•”Be open to the talents you have that you might not have known about before.”

•”Even though you might not use every bit of (math), it will open doors for you.”

•”Follow your curiosity and see where it takes you.”

•”Try things and it’s OK to be OK.”

•”What you’re going to learn in math and science is problem solving.”

•Learning how to learn is really important in your high school and college career.”

This was a fantastic talk about math and also about life in general. The panel members gave our students great advice and, perhaps, made them think about things in a way they never had before.

Thank you to the panelists for spending an hour with our students, and thank you to our students for staying engaged throughout the program!

Once A Tiger, Always A Tiger

Stacy Johnson retires as the head volleyball coach at Gilbert

With a smile on her face, Stacy Johnson exhales loudly as she stands up from a table inside the empty Gilbert High School commons area Wednesday morning. Emotionally, she held it together over a 20-minute stretch in which she was asked to play a game of, “This Is Your Life.”

She laughed. She smiled a lot. She reminisced on so many of the good times with descriptive details that made you feel like you were right there beside her in the volleyball huddle. And she reflected on those moments that make her proud of what she’s accomplished.

Make no mistake, she accomplished a lot over her 14 years with the Gilbert volleyball program, the last 12 as the head coach. But now, more than anything else, she’s content. She’s ready for that next chapter of her life, ready to see what that next chapter of Tiger volleyball looks like without her in charge.

Johnson, the only coach to ever lead Gilbert to the state volleyball tournament, has announced her resignation as the head coach. Her reasons for stepping away now are numerous, but at the top of the list is simply one word: Family. She says it’s time the most important people in her life get her undivided attention each fall.

“A lot of soul searching went into the decision,” Johnson said. “Is this the right time, is this not the right time? But over Christmas, we had all of the kids at home and they kept making comments like, ‘Mom, this is the time you can give to us.’ That put everything into perspective that this is the time. And the program is in a really good spot right now. The organization and the reputation the program has, the assistant coaches, and the players we have coming back and coming up. Putting all of those things together, in my heart I thought this is the time.”

Johnson’s daughter, Nessa, is currently a sophomore at Missouri Western State University where she plays volleyball. Getting the chance to watch her play on a consistent basis factored heavily into Johnson’s decision.

“As a freshman, I knew she wouldn’t play much so I thought I had time to dedicate to the Gilbert volleyball program and its players,” Johnson says. “But she was a starter on the team this past year and I don’t want to miss the next two years. I thought I would be selfish if I stayed (as the head coach at Gilbert) because I couldn’t give 100 percent to the program while watching my daughter play.”

Ian Smith, Gilbert’s activities director, commends Johnson on the program she ran so successfully and for making the decision that was right for herself and her family.

“Over the last year I’ve really gotten to know Coach Johnson and she’s just a great coach,” Smith said. “She’s taken Gilbert volleyball to unprecedented heights. And I couldn’t be happier for Stacy on making this decision where she can enjoy watching her daughter play collegiate volleyball. I’m really happy for her and her family that she can move on to this next stage in her life, and hopefully she’ll stay around Gilbert athletics for a long time and contribute in other ways.”

Johnson says she’d love nothing more than doing just that. She may not be the head coach in future years, but that doesn’t mean she can’t help out in other ways.

“I just love this sport and I’m passionate about Gilbert athletics,” she said. “I hope I can stay involved somehow.”

The Career: It Speaks For Itself

With 25 years of experience coaching volleyball at four different high schools, the majority of it coming at Gilbert, Johnson exits the stage with a resume any coach would be proud to wave in the air.

She won 266 matches and three conference championships during her time with Gilbert, including in 2020, the school’s first year as a member of the Raccoon River Conference. But that season holds a special place in her heart for more than just that accomplishment.

It was a unique season for myriad reasons. But the payoff was well worth it, as Gilbert reached the state tournament for the first and only time in program history. After stunning Waverly-Shell Rock on the Go-Hawks’ home floor in the regional final, the Tigers invaded Cedar Rapids and pulled off another shocker in the 4A state quarterfinals against second-seeded North Scott. Both “upsets” were 3-0 sweeps. The postseason run eventually ended in the semifinal round against West Delaware, but that hardly diminishes the memories for Johnson and her plays, one of whom was her daughter, Nessa.

“People that have been around for a while know that we were close three or four times before and could not get over that hump,” Johnson said. “So that was a huge milestone for the Gilbert volleyball program. Those girls overcame so many obstacles and so much adversity.”

Erin Bathie was one of seven seniors on that 2020 roster and she overcame her own obstacles to make it onto the court, where she delivered 204 kills on the season. Bathie suffered a serious knee injury at the state soccer tournament in June of 2019, but with Johnson’s guidance and encouragement she was able to return to the court and make a lasting impact.

“What I needed was somebody to motivate me and Stacy definitely did that,” Bathie said. “She was there with me, encouraging me. I loved playing for her.

“From her, I definitely took away that you can always try your best, give your best, and overcome anything.”

During Johnson’s 12 seasons at the helm, Gilbert won at least 20 matches nine times and crossed the 30-win barrier on three occasions in 2016, 2017, and 2019.

Johnson says her very first team as the head coach, in 2011, remains one of her proudest achievements. After a laundry list of talented players said goodbye to the program due to graduation, there weren’t high expectations for that 2011 group. And yet the Tigers went 27-6, including 8-1 in the Heart of Iowa Conference to win the league crown.

“We made the regional finals with a group of girls that would not give up that year,” Johnson said. “There was talent there, but they were total workhorses.”

Michaela Gibson, the setter on the 2011 team who doled out 661 assists that season, said it was Johnson’s consistent approach, fire, and passion that propelled the team to its lofty status.

“She just brought a lot of consistency and her expectations for everyone were the same, and they were high,” Gibson said. “She was fairly calm in practices, but when it was game time, she flipped a switch. She was very excited and she was the person we looked to to get us pumped up.”

Gabby Stearns laced 265 kills for that 2011 team during her senior season before she went on to run track at the University of Iowa, and 11 years later she gushes as she talks about what she learned from Johnson. Hearing of her retirement brought tears to Stearns’ eyes as she spoke about her former coach.

“She was such an amazing coach and she always believed in us,” Stearns said. “When I think back on my high school days and volleyball career, I always talk about Stacy and how great she was. I always looked forward to going to practice because I loved playing for her. We worked hard, but she always made me laugh, and she had a tremendous passion for volleyball.

“I would just tell her a great big thank you. One of the greatest high school memories for me is getting to play for Stacy Johnson.”

A bump in the road in 2012 was followed by eight seasons in which the Tigers won 210 matches, an average of 26.25 per campaign. From 2013-2020, Johnson coached five players — Alex Miner, Inga Rotto, Haleigh Hadley, Theo Rotto, and Nessa Johnson — to seven all-state accolades.

Eight of her players — Miner, Taylor Forth, Bree Richard, Inga Rotto, Hadley, Thea Rotto, Bathie, and Nessa Johnson — went on to play at the collegiate level. Miner, a two-time all-state player in 2013 and 2014, went on to an All-American career at the University of Missouri St.Louis where she remains to this day as an assistant volleyball coach and assistant athletic director for academics.

Inga Rotto, who bashed 1,072 kills under Johnson’s tutelage from 2014-17, went on to have a sterling collegiate career at UNI where she was a first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference selection. She never forgot where she started and that was under Johnson’s wing at Gilbert.

“Something I really appreciated about her when I was playing for her was that she gave us leadership,” Inga Rotto said. “She was a demanding coach and she had really high standards, but she listened to us and our opinions. When it came game time, she turned it on and had the plan that she thought was the path forward.

“The Gilbert volleyball program is where my confidence grew. It’s where my leadership abilities grew, and it’s where my skills grew.”

Johnson’s list of personal accolades includes three times being named the Ames Tribune Coach of the Year (2017, 2019, 2020). She was also the 2015 District Coach of the Year, and in 2017 she was named the IGCA Coach of the Year.

But perhaps one achievement that few people know about, and one that will continue to benefit Gilbert volleyball for years to come, was her involvement in the design plan for the high school gym when it was built in 2013.

Johnson worked diligently alongside then athletic director Don Knock to design the drop down volleyball net system that remains today and makes matches at various levels run smoothly and efficiently.

“I was fortunate enough when we bonded for the school and went through it that the school board let the coaches have a say in things,” Johnson said. “Don and I went down to Kansas City to visit a couple of schools that had that system, and then we were able to work with the contractors to get what we wanted. The Booster Club was an amazing support because they donated a lot of money to put those in, and eight or nine years later it’s definitely been worth it.”

So many stories. So many successes. And the pride exudes from Johnson as she talks about all of it one final time.

“I don’t know if I can explain in words how proud I am of everything we’ve accomplished,” she said. “Personally, I’ve reached a lot of goals and accomplishments myself, and between the players, the coaches, the administration, the parents, all of the support … everything they’ve given me throughout the 14 years, it couldn’t have been done without that big pool of resources.”

The next time Johnson takes in a Gilbert volleyball match, it will be in the role of a spectator. But that fire will still burn in her soul, and that will to see the team win will never leave.

Johnson is a volleyball coach. She always will be. And we’ve all been fortunate that she’s called Gilbert home for so many years.

She’s a Tiger.

Then. Now. Always.

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Gilbert Community School District

Gilbert Community School District

103 Mathews Drive, Gilbert, Iowa 50105  |  (515) 232-3740