Just a few months ago, SM North’s Belesti Akalu considered himself a speedy soccer player. But at the urging of the school’s track coach and an older brother, the lithe senior reluctantly agreed to sit out his final soccer season and sign up for the cross country team.
Early in the training program, he was pleasantly surprised by how he matched up.
“Each day I got better and better,” he said.
On Saturday, less than a year after taking up competitive running, he was the best.
Akalu made short work of the field at the 6A boys state meet at Rim Rock Farm north of Lawrence, taking the individual state title with a 15:43.4 5K performance that put him across the finish line 11.5 seconds ahead of Manhattan’s Jackson Schroeder. Impressive as the feat was, Akalu knows he could have turned in a faster performance but for a stiff breeze beating across the course.
“I was a bit slower than my normal pace, but I’m very satisfied with the result,” he said.
Here’s a look at Akalu crossing the finish line:
— U.S. Latino Lit SMN (@usllsmn) October 31, 2015
Akalu found his parents and the rest of his family at the finish line. His brother Alex, a junior, finished not far behind him in seventh place overall.
“[They] gave me a huge hug and told me how much they were proud of me,” he said. “I told them I was lucky to have them and glad they were here to see me winning.”
Akalu says he’s planning on continuing his burgeoning running career at the college level, though he doesn’t know what school he’ll attend yet.
Akalu wasn’t the only one to bring hardware back to northeast Johnson County. SM North’s girls took third place in the team rankings, missing first place by just one point. (Manhattan and Lawrence tied for first with Manhattan winning the tiebreaker). The Indians were led by Amber Reed, who finished fifth in the individual standings with a time of 19:18.1. Samantha Taylor finished ninth overall and Kathryn Kasunic took twelfth:
SM East’s boys found their way to the podium for the first time in 48 years as well, taking third place in the team standings. The Lancers were led by John Arnspiger, Jack Young and Lance Meng, who finished 12th, 13th and 15th respectively: