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MTZ’s Sam Atkinson heads to Illinois State for track

Sam Atkinson singing his letter of intent to run track and field at Illinois State surrounded by his family and coaches.

By BLAKE FAITH
Staff Writer

Mt. Zion Braves’ Sam Atkinson is heading to Illinois State to run track and field and continue his academic career.

“I really liked the coaches there and the program they had,” Atkinson said. “I think I can help them and they can help me build me into a better runner.”

Atkinson as a senior faced so much adversity. Atkinson overcame adversity battling sickness and minor injuries that he was unsure if he could compete to the level he wanted to in his event in the 800 meters. Atkinson won his heat in prelims and then battled his way from fourth to second place in the finals finishing with a time of one minute and 53 seconds that beat his school record from last year by one second and placed second in the IHSA 2A Track and Field Championships.

“I can be a consistent runner at the collegiate level,” I think I’m pretty consistent here and moving forward and I wanna bring that with me from Mt. Zion to Bloomington.”

Head coach Joe Fritzche praised Atkinson for his development as a leader in his four years in the program into a consistent piece, a workhorse for his team and someone that motivates others especially how he became a running partner for junior Julian Baker.

“Sam has really developed, he’s always just been somebody that we can rely on,” Coach Fritzche said. “He has always just had this raw natural speed and it’s just really come in handy the past four years. He’s definitely somebody that we are going to surely miss and go moving on into the future because he’s just one of those consistents.I love the definition of in the four by four, the four by unit, you get the anchor, and I think there’s something to the anchor because it holds things in place. He held our team in place. He’s held, he’s held our team in place by giving us a great four by eight leg, a great four by four leg. We can always rely on him in any type of mid-distance events and he’s just a workhorse. He wants to get better. He wants to improve. He’s got great motivation and that motivates the distance guys around him.”

Coach Fritzche said that Atkinson’s legacy is going to be the records Atkinson made as a Brave for the school.

“He holds the 800 meter record and he holds the 400 meter record from Mount Zion,” Coach Fritzche said. “He leaves behind that legacy that when people are walking through the big gym, they’re gonna see his name up on the board and know the impact that he had on the program while he was here. I think just going to a D1 college really motivates guys. You know, they can see that we have, we have D1 talents coming through Mt. Zion now. For these guys to go out and continue their track careers is a huge legacy to leave behind and it helps draw more people, hopefully to track, to see what they can do and what they can accomplish.”

Atkinson is undecided for his major and academic goals are to get As and Bs. Athletically he wants to get his 800 meter time to one minute and 50 seconds.

Coach Fritzche’s last words of advice to Atkinson is to stay motivated.

“It is very easy,” Coach Fritzche said. “I know from experience that when you get between that senior year of high school to that freshman year of college and the difference in training and the difference in expectations the pressure mounts and it’s very hard to keep your motivation. So, my words of advice to Sam is to keep motivated. If he needs to go out to some of the high school cross country practices and still run with those guys and stay motivated to stay consistent, that will go a long way. You can build a really good base in the summer between your senior year and your freshman year of college.”

Atkinson will cherish and miss most about his time as a Brave are his coaches and knowing everybody.

“I really like our coaches. They’re really easy to get along with and they help everybody. And I think that’s one thing that everybody looks forward to coming to practice is coaches. And then for school, I think knowing everybody was really cool. I think going off to college won’t be the same, like being able to know everybody, which I’m still excited about, but I think it’s cool walking to school and like being able to say hi to everybody.”

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