McKenna Coughlin wins ExCEL Award

by Tom Coombe
McKenna Coughlin of Ely is one of 36 high school juniors across Minnesota to receive a unique award from the Minnesota State High School League.
After excelling in numerous activities, Coughlin was named Section 7A’s female winner of the MSHSL ExCEL award.
Standing for Excellence in Community, Education and Leadership – ExCEL is a recognition program designed exclusively for Minnesota high school juniors who are active in school activities, who show leadership qualities, and who work voluntarily in their community.
While Coughlin has received her award, she and other winners missed out on a formal recognition event. It was going to take place in mid-March during the state girls basketball tournament in Minneapolis, but was cancelled the day before because of the coronavirus.
“I was really excited for that,” said Couhglin. “There was also a kid who won it from my old school (Orono) so that would have been fun.”
Yet despite the absence of a ceremony, Coughlin nonetheless has been honored for achievements that extend beyond the classroom, where she carries an A-plus average.
Coughlin is active in the high school band, playing the french horn, and she is part of the school’s Iron Range Youth In Action group, helping with projects for the new elementary school playground and the Ely Area Food Shelf.
A member of the National Honor Society, Coughlin has worked on that group’s highway clean-up and garden projects.
She is also active at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, teaching elementary religious education courses and counseling at a church camp in McGregor.
But Coughlin is most passionate about volleyball, where she has stood out the last four seasons on the Timberwolves’ volleyball team.
The last two years, Coughlin has been one of the team’s top hitters and has led the Wolves to two straight appearances in the Section 7A finals.
“I really like how team focused volleyball is compared to other sports,” she said. “I really like how reliant you are on your teammates. It’s not your choice who touches the ball. And I like how close you get to your teammates, and how close I’ve got with my teammates in Ely and Duluth.”
In addition to high school volleyball, Coughlin is active in club volleyball on a Duluth-based team that plays more than a dozen tournaments per year.
“It goes from January to July and you practice a couple of times per week in Duluth and play like every other weekend,” said Coughlin. “We were supposed to finish the season with a tournament in Dallas, but that’s obviously all cancelled now.”
Coughlin is also part of Ely’s girls track team, competing last year in several relays.
Nominated by high school counselor John Townsend, Coughlin had to submit an essay as part of the award process and she said “that important traits were honesty, leading by example, and using communication to get everybody on the same page and working toward a common goal.”
Coughlin, the daughter of Pat and Connie Coughlin, said she hopes to pursue a career in biomedical engineering.