Mikayla Akers dedicates almost as much time to track and field from the comfort of her home as she does during her practice sessions.
The Los Banos junior upped her training regimen after qualifying for the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters meet a season ago. In addition to her regular high school practices, Akers joined the Central Valley Roadrunners in Modesto to add some supplemental training.
But even that alone doesn't account for her success.
Akers is a student of the sport, knowing the names and times of just about everyone she goes up against in a 400-meter race. She goes into each race with a developed plan based on information. It was that combination of physical development and meticulous planning that helped Akers set a new personal record and capture the 400 crown at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV/V meet last week.
“That was really important to me. It meant a lot,” Akers said. “I had the best time coming in, so it wasn’t really a shock, but you also never know. My confidence was pretty high after I turned in the top qualifying time, but it was only by milliseconds.
“I really wanted to run under a minute, so I was pleased about that. I didn’t beat my P.R. by much, but everything counts”
Akers and 32 other local athletes will now turn their sights toward qualifying for state. The two-day Masters meet starts today and concludes Friday at Elk Grove High School.
Included in that group are Merced’s Ashanti McFarland (third in the 100 and 200 at D-I finals), Livingston’s Abhishek Singh (the 400 champion in D-IV/V) and Tina Lao (second in the discus and shot put at D-IV/V), Golden Valley’s Shawn Bettencourt (fourth in the 300 hurdles and fifth in the 110 hurdles at D-I), El Capitan’s Dominique Navarrette (the D-IV/V discus champ) and a number of talented relay teams from Atwater, Golden Valley and Livingston.
With a loaded field and only the top three finishers qualifying for the State Championships, Akers knows the odds are against her advancing to state for the first time. Still, she enters the meet optimistic.
“I’m not really expecting to advance to state,” Akers said. “My times aren’t really there with the rest of the girls in the field. What I’m really hoping for is to get a new P.R. and to finish better than I did last year. If I can do those things, we’ll see what happens.”
Don’t let Akers’ pragmatism fool you. Even without high expectations, she’ll still do her due diligence and have a plan of attack for taking on an imposing field.
“It’s something I started my sophomore season,” Akers said. “I like knowing who the other girls are and what their times are. My mom might even be worse about it than I am. The two of us are almost always talking track. ‘Did you see what this girl ran?’ or ‘She’s someone you’re going to want to keep pace with.’
“It can be very helpful at times. Other times, after a long day of track practice, it’s not the first thing I want to talk about when I get home. I feel like it’s made me better overall, however.”
While the 400 does afford the opportunity for a little more strategy than shorter sprints, Akers takes it to another level. She goes into each race knowing who she wants to keep pace with and who she needs to stay in front of.
Tigers coach Ernie Willhite said Akers is only going to get better.
“She’s just a junior,” Willhite said. “She’s definitely gotten more serious this year as she began to understand how good she could be and that she might be able to do this in college.
“She’s very thoughtful and has a will to win. There wasn’t much that separated the times of the field in the D-IV/V Championships, but Mikayla just wanted it more and it showed. That was a big win for her and for our program as we try to build it up.”
Making state is the next evolution in her journey, even if that still might be a year away. The one thing Akers isn’t concerned about going into Masters: the nerves that plagued her at the event a year ago.
“They were pretty bad last year,” Akers admitted. “They’ve really gone away this season as I’ve had success. It definitely helped that I’d done it all before and shown I could compete at this level.
“I’m going in knowing that it’s a race I’ve run hundreds of times. I’m not expected to qualify for state, so really there’s no pressure on me. My main goal is to maybe catch the eye of a college coach in the crowd and set myself up for a big senior year.”