Northwest cross country junior Karim Achengli ended a 20-year drought with his performance at the NCAA Championships Dec. 1 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Achengli placed 38th out of 261 runners with a time of 33:25.1 in the 10,000-meter race. The time was more than three minutes off of his regional time of 30:04.6, but he still managed to secure All-American honors and became only the fifth Bearcat to do so for the men’s team.
The last time the Northwest men saw an All-American runner was in 1997 as Robby Lane achieved the status. In that same year, two Bearcat women, Lindsey Borgstadt and Kathy Kearns, both claimed the honor as well.
Coaching a runner to All-American status in his first year is something coach Nick Gibson said reflects the success the team has had as a whole.
“I knew going into the season, in the back of my mind that he (Achengli) should be able to be an All-American,” Gibson said. “This should be a turning stone in our program and moving forward. We’ve had one All-American, now this is the standard.”
Despite the accomplishment for Achengli, the results were far from expectations heading into the meet. He posted the second fastest time throughout all regions during the central region meet but fell short in repeating those results.
A major factor in the race was the conditions of the course and the inability of Achengli to change out the spikes in his shoes to match those conditions. Gibson pointed out that he was essentially running mud-on-mud with the amount his shoes had picked up during the race.
The next step for both Achengli and the rest of the cross country team is continuing the growth they have made into indoor track and field season. While the majority of the team has been training for weeks for indoor, Achengli will need to make the transition quickly to maintain momentum.
“Karim is in really good shape,” Gibson said. “The conditions of the course (at nationals) that wears on you, but he is strong enough and fit enough to handle it. He’s had a light week this week and has had a lot of time to recover to try and bounce back from the championships.”
Part of the process in the transition is moving from a one event mindset to having multiple events to train for.
“As we move into track season, everyone starts to focus more on their individual events,” sophomore Tucker Dahle said. “We get into smaller training groups to have specialized workouts so we can be better suited for different events, such as the 1500 (meter) up to the 5000 (meter).”
Historical beginning set for indoor track and field
For the first time in program history, Northwest indoor track and field prepares for a home meet as the Mel Tjeerdsma Classic Dec. 7-8 opens the first season under coach Brandon Masters.
The first step of Masters’ inaugural season, referred to as “The Masters Plan” by junior runner Juwan Bush, will start with a challenge as 14 teams are expected to compete. With Missouri Western and Washburn both slated as a small test of MIAA competition, the meet will offer a gauge of where the team is at.
In the past, the Bearcats have begun the indoor season on road trips cutting into training time. This year that is no longer an issue.
“We feel way more prepared,” Bush said. “We are running on a track that won’t injure us or we won’t have to modify the workout cause the curves are too sharp. I feel like the team is going to be at an advantage finally for indoor conference.”
Previously, the Bearcats were confined to Lamkin with an undersized track that caused stress on training with sharp corners and a worn down surface. The new track allows Northwest to remove any limits on training.
With the new facility comes higher expectations for the Bearcats, particularly on the men’s side. Last season Northwest finished ninth out of 12 teams at the MIAA Championships and Bush wants to start the season strong within the conference.
“Individually I’m expecting to put up a top 10 400 meter time for our conference,” Bush said. “For our 4-x-400, we’re hopefully going to get a 3:19.50 and win the overall meet as a team.”
As the men search for growth, the women’s team seeks to build off of last season’s success. Finishing third in the conference meet by slightly more than 10 points sets bigger goals for the 2018-2019 campaign.
Although just one season removed from the third-place finish Masters stressed simply repeating the results will be very difficult.
“We have lost a big group of ladies to graduation, a few left Northwest during the semester, and some just simply quit,” Master said. “Our roster is small but talented. A duplication of 3rd at the MIAAs, although possible, is a tall order. We do not currently have the depth.”
The development of Hammond will play a major role in the team’s overall success. After placing third in the 60-meter hurdles and fifth in the 400-meter dash during last year’s conference meet, she will have an increased role this season.
“Jordan has to do a lot for this team. Due to our depth issues, I will ask a lot of our ladies,” Masters said. “Jordan may be the one we lean on the most.”
Along with the increased leadership role, Hammond will face a new task this season as she shifts to her new role in the pentathlon. Consisting of the 60-meter hurdles, 800-meter run, long jump, high jump and shot put, the pentathlon tests an athlete in all areas of training.
Masters said moving Hammond to the pentathlon will be a process, and he is sure that she will thrive through the struggles.
“She (Hammond) is loving the opportunity to learn new events in the multi-events. She has come a long way, and I expect that she will still have some stumbles,” Masters said. “I know she will figure it out and put together a great score. Jordan is a fighter, and she will do great things this year, I have no doubt.”
The opening meet of the season will offer Hammond with an ease into the multi-event and allow her to adjust to the new events. Despite being new to the event, she still has the same expectations set for herself.
“For me personally, my biggest thing this meet is remembering that I’m new to the multi so I can’t get frustrated,” Hammond said. “As always, my expectations are high for myself because I know I’m capable of some great things in this sport and for the 400 (meter) on Saturday (Dec. 8). I’m just going to go compete and do what I’ve been training so far to do.”