By Josh Martin
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
On a sunny day at the Brutus Hamilton Challenge in Berkeley, California the starter raises his arm to ready the runners, K-State sprinter A’Keyla Mitchell is primed to do what no other freshman has done in the history of the school’s track and field program. The starting gun is fired and when the race is over, Mitchell has broken another school record.
Competing at a small school, West Oso High School to be exact, athletes like Mitchell are often not exposed to the training and facilities that it takes to become a Division I sprinter. Whatever obstacles the Corpus Christi, Texas, native has had to overcome, she’s overcome them quickly, setting four K-State school records to date.
“It felt amazing just knowing that I am a freshman and I am here coming from a little town in Corpus Christi, Texas, and coming up here where no one knew me,” Mitchell said. “It is amazing for me as a freshman to come up here and break records that were set in the 1990s or even before that.”
Already with three school records set during the indoor season – 60-meter, 200-meter and as part of the 4x400 – Mitchell’s latest record-breaking effort came in Berkeley, where her time of 11.40 seconds broke the Wildcat 100-meter dash record of 11.51 seconds that had previously stood since 1991. In addition to her record-setting performances, she was awarded All-American honors in the 200m dash and on the 4x400m relay team and was also voted Big 12 Outstanding Freshman of the Year during the indoor season.
Her teammate and fellow newcomer, Akela Jones, has experienced what Mitchell’s accomplished firsthand and has been rooting for her the whole time.
“It has been great to see her succeed,” said Jones, who joined the Wildcats this season after spending two years at Oklahoma Baptist. “She has come a long way since she has been at K-State. I know at first she had doubts but she has been training really hard, she has been relentless in her weight programs and she has been succeeding so much beyond expectations, beyond her expectations and beyond coach’s expectations.”
For Mitchell, throughout her athletic career she has been no stranger to success. Running on the West Oso track squad, Mitchell dominated, nabbing University Interscholastic League [ULI] state titles in the 200m, two in the 100m, received ULI All-American honors, and was ranked the No. 1 sprinter in the 200m in the state of Texas.
Even with all of the success she had in high school, Mitchell was still surprised at what she has been able to accomplish so far at K-State.
“I did not even think I would be doing what I am doing now, breaking records and getting noticed just as a freshman knowing that I have three more years,” explained Mitchell.
Count Head Track and Field Coach Cliff Rovelto as another person who has been very impressed with Mitchell’s rapid ascent in Purple and White.
“People just do not do what she has done as a freshman. You just do not improve that much in that short of period of time. It is not possible. There is not magic dust that we are sprinkling around. Obviously she just has a huge amount of natural ability,” said Rovelto.
“Given what her training background is and what she has done,” Rovelto continued. “I think she has still a lot of room for improvement.”
All of Mitchell’s success is not by accident. Since she has arrived at K-State, the program has provided an opportunity to work hard and make it a priority to get better – a sentiment echoed by Jones.
“It is talent and hard work for her,” Jones explained. “She is talented to the core and she works hard. She does a lot of things that she does not want to do but she comes out here and everyone encourages her and she takes that and she fuels it in and puts it back out on the track. She is just amazing.”
The most exciting thing about Mitchell, and freshman student-athletes in general, is how young she is and how much room she has for further development. With all of the success she has had in year one, Rovelto still has a little more than three more years to work with her to help her reach her full potential and he is eager to see what she can accomplish.
“She is going to contribute a great deal to the track program here at Kansas State but ultimately it comes down to how hard you want to work,” Rovelto said. “Everybody kind of gets to that point where the improvements have come kind of quick doing this, but to continue to improve you have to work exponentially harder for smaller returns and that remains to be seen how she addresses that. [Her work ethic] has been good. It has been very good.”
Having an athlete with an immense amount of talent is all that anyone can ask for. When you combine that with a good work ethic and a motivation to succeed, you have the athlete that any Wildcat fan wants and that is Mitchell. Followers of K-State Track and Field everywhere are excited to see the level that this talented athlete can take her skills. She is going to work hard and hopes that she can continue contributing to an ever-improving Wildcat program.