By Michael Bower
Nia Akins often finds herself next to the elite high school cross country runners in the San Diego County, battling it out all the way to the finish line.
But the Rancho Bernardo High sophomore has a hard time believing she belongs with the front pack.
“I have a lot of trouble with confidence,” Akins admitted. “I guess it’s because I just started running last year as a freshman and everyone else I am running against is experienced. I guess it is just intimidation.”
Akins might not know it or believe it just yet, but she definitely belongs grouped in with the other star runners in the San Diego County. And that is something longtime Broncos coach Terry Dockery makes sure to continually remind her.
“I remember the first Palomar League Cluster meet this year she finished behind (Poway’s) Sophie Smith and I thought she could have won,” Dockery explained. “...After the race, I talked to her and I told her, ‘you are good enough to win these races.’ It kind of surprised her.”
Nobody, except maybe Akins, was surprised with what happened at Saturday’s North County Conference Championships at Kit Carson Park’s new 2.7-mile course.
Akins found herself with the front pack next to the talented Smith, a senior, for most of the Palomar League’s final race. The two exchanged the lead a few times, but for the most part were in a dead heat the entire way.
“I was thinking ‘oh my gosh, that is Sophie Smith next to me and she has all these titles,’” Akins said.
Still, Akins was able to pull into the lead coming down the hill. She started to hear the footsteps of other runners gaining on her down the stretch, which gave her the motivation to keep on pushing along.
“The fear I had coming down the hill from hearing all the girls behind me got me thinking, ‘Oh, man. I should probably maintain this,’” she said.
And she did. By the smallest of margins.
Akins edged Smith by one second to capture the individual league title in a then-course record 16 minutes, 23 seconds. The record only lasted about 30 minutes, because La Costa Canyon star Emma Abrahamson ran a 15:57 in the Avocado West League race.
For Akins’ effort, she is the Toyota of Poway Athlete of the Week.
“It felt great to win,” said Akins, who entered high school thinking she would play soccer before giving cross country a try and falling in love with the sport. “It is still hard to believe. It is still setting in that I won.”
Akins is now preparing for the CIF San Diego Section Championships, which is on Saturday at Morley Field. The Division II girls race begins at 10:40 a.m. The Broncos are expected to finish in the top four as a team and qualify for state.
Akins finished in 84th place at the state meet as a freshman. She was disappointed with that result and also disappointed with how she ended the track season last year. She finished in 11th place in the 1,600-meter section finals.
“She is pretty hard on herself,” Dockery said. “I know she wants to finish strong this year and she will not be satisfied until she does. I just try to get her to look at what she has accomplished and not her minor failings.”
Akins says despite her negative thoughts throughout races, her competitiveness and will to help her team win outweighs everything.
She says that is what keeps her loving the sport and why she would like to continue running at the college level one day.
“I try to tell myself to be positive,” she said. “It is really hard to rule out those negative thoughts when running. But usually in the end, I get really competitive and that just takes over.”