ERIE — Simply being on varsity isn’t good enough. Just getting to state doesn’t quite cut it.
Not for Kenzie Atkins. The Erie senior has spent the past three years being a solid runner for the Tigers.
As far as she is concerned, it’s time to reach an elite level.
“I want to be good and I want to get scholarships, and I just want to be recognized,” she said.
With the graduation of five state-qualifying seniors, Atkins is now the unquestioned leader of an Erie team that is typically one of the best in the St. Vrain Valley.
“We have some other good ones, and I think she’ll pull them along, so it’ll be interesting at the end,” Tigers coach Scott Leiding said. “Seniors kind of do two things: some of them kind of seem to slip away and some of them embrace it and get after it.
“Hopefully she leaves a legacy and the other kids as the season goes along say, ‘OK, this is what it takes.'”
Atkins appears determined be the type of senior that embraces her leadership role. If the rest of the team — including her younger sister Marissa — follow Atkins’ lead, this could be a good year for the Tigers.
“Our team is looking strong,” Atkins said. “We’re new, but they’re looking really strong and competitive.”
So is Atkins. But, it hasn’t been easy getting to this point.
Prior to 2010, she was well on her way to having a stellar career. She was 34th at the Class 3A state cross country meet in 2009 and was eager to keep that momentum going. Instead, she battled an illness that bothered her so much during the track season that Leiding took her off a couple key relays.
It was a heart-breaking moment, she said.
Still recovering from her illness, Atkins had an OK cross country season 2010, but it wasn t great. She finished 91st at the Class 4A state meet, 57 spots behind her finish in 2009. Her state meet time was more than 28 seconds slower than it was in 2009.
Healthy again, Atkins has been on a tear lately. It began with a stellar spring on the Tigers’ track team.
“In track, she had more foot speed than we really imagined,” Leiding said. “She kind of surprised us. There were a couple of relays she was on that set school records that I wouldn’t have thought that at the beginning.”
Atkins is not the type of runner putting 100 miles a week on her shoes. But, she was dedicated all summer, to the point that she was told to back off a bit and do some bicycle work instead of running.
“I got up every morning and ran my guts out,” she said. “I put in four miles a day and then swam and biked to give myself a break. It really improved my times.”
During several summer races, Atkins put up great times. That has her hopes high for this season.
“I’m excited to be a senior and I’m excited to see how well my times have improved,” she said. “I really want (to do well), and that’s part of the reason I didn’t graduate early. I really want to be on the top and show everyone that this is my chance.”
As good as her summer was, Atkins said she hasn’t hit her peak.
“Not yet,” she said. “I think I have a little bit more and I’m going to push it.”
Brian Howell can be reached at email@example.com.