EBF senior Akers signs with IHCC cross-country program

Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont senior Shelby Akers (seated, middle) signed her letter of intent on Monday to run cross-country and attend college starting next season at Indian Hills Community College. Akers was joined by her mother, Callie (seated, left), sister, Summer (seated, right), grandmother, Kim Johnson (standing, left), IHCC running coach Derek Wilson (standing, middle) and EBF running coach Bob Shepard (standing, right).

EDDYVILLE — It was a busy 72 hours for Derek Wilson.

On Saturday, Wilson was in Fort Dodge where the Indian Hills cross-country program completed a historic season with the highest finish in NJCAA Division I National men's cross-country meet. Led by an All-American performance from freshman Nick O’Connor and a tightly packed remaining group of runners, the Warriors placed seventh in the meet overcoming bone-chilling 30-degree temperatures and a stiff wind on the wide-open Lakeside Municipal Golf Course to score place in the top 10 nationally for the first time.

Two days later, Wilson was in Eddyville signing the most recent local athlete to run next season for the IHCC women's cross-country team. Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont senior Shelby Akers joined a recruiting class that currently includes Ottumwa's Isabelle Mellin, Cardinal's Alexia McClure and Knoxville's Sophia Murphy.

"Shelby is a girl that, every time I see her, I know she has the ability to run really fast for us," Wilson said. "There are some technical things we need to clean up. There will be some general strength work to help her keep from hunching over and striding shorter late in races. If we can keep her from hitting that wall and boost her confidence to make her more aggressive in the second half of races, she's got a ton of potential. Working on cleaning up the little things will make all the difference in the world."

Examples of that improvement on the women's side was also evident on Saturday at the national meet. Shiggo Shadin led IHCC in her final race for the Warriors, finishing 40th overall in 20:51.03 while freshmen teammates Monse Guerrero-Chapula (67th in 22:06.08) and Julie Granahan (80th in 22:50.62) also showed season-ending improvement.

“It was definitely less than ideal conditions, but they didn’t let that affect them,” said IHCC head running coach Brent Ewing. “The ladies did a great job battling through the harsh conditions. I was proud to see this group finish so strong.”

Shadin’s clocking of 20:51.03 put the Des Moines native just 30 seconds from earning All-American status.

“She’s been one of our best female distance runners to come through our program,” Ewing added. “We will certainly miss her next year.”

Despite the loss of the team’s top runner, Ewing looked forward to 2021 with promise and excitement.

“Guerrero-Chapula has such a bright future,” Ewing said. “This was her first year ever running cross country and she walked away with a 21:37 season’s best. She’s is going to be a great leader for our team next year.

“The same can be said about Julie Granahan. She has improved so much since high school. She’s the type of athlete you want to build a program around. Guerrero-Chapula and Granahan have definitely paved the way for a great 2021 women’s team.”

Akers was one of EBF's top female runners this past cross-country season. The senior led the Rockets in the season-closing Class 2A state qualifying meet at Williamsburg, placing 35th in 23:41.9.

"It should be really exciting running with so many girls I've ran against over the years," Akers said.

The Warrior men, meanwhile, placed eight spots higher than the program's previous high mark of 15th at the 2018 national meet. Indian Hills did that without a top runner due to a positive COVID test and another teammate was lost recently due to a collapsed lung.

“We really needed everyone to step up at the national meet, and that’s exactly what they did,” said Ewing. “For our program, this is a huge accomplishment. I’m very proud of the guys, and it’s directly tied to the attitude and grit of our team.

“The guys have been through a lot this year. It was a gutsy race for our men.”

O’Connor, just as he has all season, led the Warriors as the Tiffin native finished in 18th place overall with a time of 26:17.19 over the 8k route. The effort earned O’Connor All-American status from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).

“Nick is a hard-nosed young man,” Ewing said. “He set the tone for our program all year.”

O’Connor’s finish allowed him to become the third All-American in the last three years of the IHCC program, joining Marcus Graham and Michael DeMeyer both in 2018. O’Connor’s 18th-place finish stands as the highest individual placing in school history.

After O’Connor’s impressive performance, Ewing was particularly impressed by how tight runner’s two through six stayed.

“Our pack two-through-six did an incredible job of keeping contact with each other,” Ewing said. “When you look at the results (a spread of 86 seconds), that’s what stands out most.”

Freshman Chris Metz continued his late season surge by topping that tight-knit group by becoming IHCC’s second finisher, coming in 25th with a 27:07.33.

Ewing also noted the effort of Jacob Glandon in the sophomore’s final effort as a Warrior.

“Jacob had a race of a lifetime in his last race for Indian Hills.” Ewing said. “He beat his season’s best by over a minute.”

The 2020 Warrior men's cross-country teams finished the season with a program-best NJCAA ranking of No. 6 and should be poised for a solid 2021 campaign with its top four finishers at the national meet coming from the freshman class.

"It was a really good season for all our kids," Wilson said. "To have our top four guys being freshman shows we've got some bright days ahead next year. We're hoping to round up three or four more kids in that low 16-minute range that we can develop for next year. We've got some big things happening on the distance side of the program. It's a really big time for us."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

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