North Allegheny’s Akindele among WPIAL’s top sprinters

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Saturday, May 8, 2021 | 9:01 AM


When North Allegheny sprinter Lola Akindele broke the 60-second barrier in the 400 meters, she was elated.

“That was definitely my biggest (statistical) goal of the season and something I really wanted to see for myself because I was always so close,” she said. “Having done that, it was such a good feeling. I was so happy. I celebrated with all my friends and coaches there.”

But at first she wasn’t sure.

The junior crossed the finish line in 59.86 seconds at the Butler Invitational on April 24. Only seven girls in the WPIAL have broken the minute mark this season, according to milesplit.com stats.

“I didn’t know because it was really close,” she said. “It was around 59.9 or something. I wasn’t 100% sure. But then coach (John) Neff told me and I was so excited, so happy.”

Akindele ran a personal-best 25.8 seconds in the 200 a week earlier at the Lady Spartan/Wildcat Invitational in Latrobe. That time ranks fifth-best in WPIAL Class 3A.

Those tense moments of waiting to learn whether she’d posted a personal record are emotions she and other track athletes missed terribly last spring when their seasons were canceled because of the pandemic.

Along with running the 100, 200 and 400, Akindele is a member of both sprint relay teams at North Allegheny. She’s one of the standouts on an NA girls roster that had the Tigers in the running for the WPIAL Class 3A team title.

“Lola’s a team-leader extraordinaire,” Neff said. “She’s a great natural athlete who’s worked to improve upon that. … This year, she didn’t miss a beat and is having the great season we thought she would have.”

Among the other standouts, freshman Eva Kynaston has led the team’s distance runners, and junior Hannah Ziegler tops the throwers.

As a freshman, Akindele went to the 2019 state championships in Shippensburg as an alternate on NA’s sprint relay teams. She wasn’t needed to run then, but that experience had her thinking about a return trip ever since.

The 400 and 800 relay teams are again contenders to qualify for the states with Akindele running one of the legs, but Neff said she has the potential to qualify in any of her individual events.

But first Akindele said she might have a decision to make. She intends to run both relays, so she may reduce her workload of individual events. The WPIAL individual championship meet is May 19 at Slippery Rock.

“I think doing all of them would be a little too much for me,” she said. “I don’t want to sacrifice from the 4-by-100 or the 4-by-400.

“I’d love to be able to run them all. I’d have a chance in them all, but I know it will be too much.”

Which of the individual sprints is her best? That’s up for debate. She favors the 400.

“That’s a tough one,” Neff said. “She’s got a fantastic 100. She’s got a fantastic 400. I love her in the 200. If you had to pick, you’d probably say the 200 is her strongest event, but she’s a competitor. She’s dangerous in the 100, 200 and 400.”

Akindele joined the cross country team last fall, not to compete for medals but as a way to work out and improve endurance.

Also, around this time last year, Akindele and her friends were sprinting on their own on North Park’s track. Yet with no electronic timing at the finish line, it was difficult to gauge anyone’s precise times.

“With sprints, it’s kind of hard to self-time with how much each millisecond matters,” she said.

That made breaking the 60-second barrier late last month all the more rewarding.

“Seeing the times that I’ve gotten has been really motivating for me,” she said. “I was afraid I wouldn’t see any improvement despite all the hard work I put in. But seeing it all pay off means a lot.

“And I have a lot more in me, so I know I’ll see even better times.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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