May 2, 2023 at 7:40 p.m.

A happy ending

A happy ending
A happy ending

By Carol [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Heller two-time Melrose speech  storytelling champion; team second at state

Ellie Heller has her own story to tell.

This Melrose Area High School senior is a two-time state speech champion, earning top honors in storytelling April 29 during the Minnesota State High School League State Class A Speech Tournament at Eastview High School in Apple Valley.

Standing with the other seven storytelling finalists, in front of a gym filled with speech participants and fans, she heard the name of the second place winner in storytelling and realized she had won.

“The first thing I did was look at my parents in the crowd, and it was a great moment seeing them jump on their feet with everybody,” said Heller, the daughter of Dr. Pat and Juliann Heller.

She was part of a Melrose team earning second place, with 47 points, at the state tournament. Mounds Park Academy, with 65 points, took first place.   

Melrose sent 17 speakers to the state meet, a school record. During the day-long competition, 10 Melrose speakers advanced to finals and earned medals, including Heller, who has competed at state three times. Drew Pundsack, third time at state, earned second in creative expression. Makalya Zirbes, third time at state, earned third in great speeches. Anessa Redepenning, second time at state, earned fourth in extemporaneous reading. Amelia Brower, second time at state, earned fourth in informative speaking. Vanessa Santana, second time at state, earned fourth in poetry.

Reagan Mueller, second time at state, earned sixth in creative expression. Autumn Oevermann, second time at state, earned sixth in dramatic interpretation. Emily Sand, first time at state, earned sixth in extemporaneous reading. Andrew Traeger, second time at state, earned seventh in original oratory.

Other state competitors included Lydia Prout, third time at state; Caraline Braun, second time at state; and Jonathan Botello, Teague Dusha, Philip Job, Logan Schad and Asher Utsch each participating at state for the first time.

Head coach Mikayla Curry said the team had an “incredible season with a talented group of speakers” who set records with enrollment numbers, section finalists, state participants and state finalists. Assistant coaches included Teresa Schad, Pam Rue, Taylor Garthus, Emily Krogstad and Jake Pundsack.

“I feel blessed to work with a well-rounded coaching staff who help speakers move mountains,” Curry said. “Our coaching staff could not be more proud of our entire team. We know the success we found is a result of the work this entire team put into supporting one another and pushing each other to succeed.”

Heller became the first speaker in Melrose history to win two individual state championships and Melrose’s sixth overall entry to win a state speech title.

For Heller, it was the perfect ending to her six-year high school speech career that started in seventh grade, when she decided storytelling would be her speech category, after being inspired by Callie Schaefer, the state storytelling champion for Melrose in 2019.

“I knew I wanted to be just like her,” Heller said.

Heller chose storytelling because she said it forces her to think on her feet a lot.

“And it has a lot of variety because there are 15 different scripts I have to prepare,” she said.

Her coach encouraged her to practice every day, which, because she is also in basketball during the winter and in softball during the spring, meant she did the majority of her speech practicing at home.

“There were plenty of late nights in the week leading up to state, recording and re-recording my various stories,” Heller said.

Speech has taught her life lessons, including the value of portraying confidence even when she may feel the opposite and being OK with disappointment.

“Not every judge will love you, and that is perfectly fine, as long as you don’t let it get in your head,” Heller said.

She credits her coaches with her speech success.

“Especially Ms. Curry, who has pushed me and encouraged me even back in seventh grade when I was absolutely terrible,” Heller said. “I never would have found this success without her guidance.”

Schaefer, her speech mentor, has also been a huge help.

“She offered me advice and was an enormous role model for me,” Heller said.

Heller’s high school speech story has a happy ending.


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