GIRLS RUNNER OF THE YEAR: Obeng-Akrofi makes mark on young Archer program

A change in the school districts didn’t sit well at first with Akua Obeng-Akrofi.

She went to Richards Middle in seventh grade, but then was separated from the majority of her friends because her neighborhood shifted to McConnell Middle.

“I was a little upset because only one of my good friends got redistricted (to McConnell),” Obeng-Akrofi said.

Now a recent Archer graduate, Obeng-Akrofi has a different feeling about the cluster change. She embraced the opportunity to make new friends, while also making a mark on the athletic program at a new school.

“I really liked (being at a new school),” said Obeng-Akrofi, the Daily Post’s girls runner of the year. “You always want to have a goal to break. But it was really cool to set the goal and set the mark instead for others to shoot for.”

Obeng-Akrofi and her teammates did that this season. The Tigers finished off the best girls track and field season in school history with a fourth-place finish in Class AAAAAA at the state championships in Albany.

A number of Archer’s contributors will be back next season, but the team’s top sprinter is headed off to college track. She leaves with an impressive resumé, making her difficult to replace in the lineup.

“Akua is the kind of kid you dream of coaching,” Archer track and field coach John Williams said. “She is a mentally tough kid that prefers to lead by example. She never complains about the workload and always gives 110 percent. You always know what you are going to get from her from a performance standpoint, as well as from a leadership standpoint. She was always the voice of reason, or mediator, if ever there were disagreements or misunderstandings among the team. Her leadership was one of a kind. She is the kind of person you hope your daughter becomes. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be her coach, even if it was just for her senior year.”

Though her parents were college track and field athletes in their native Ghana, Obeng-Akrofi didn’t follow their paths immediately. She played tennis and a few other sports as a youngster, eventually joining the Archer volleyball program as a freshman. With some encouragement from her parents, she gave track and field a try for the first time as a sophomore.

“I’d say I was pretty good at it right away,” she said. “I’m better at it than volleyball. I made the right choice.”

Obeng-Akrofi closed her career as Gwinnett’s top sprinter this season, placing fourth in the 100-meter run (12.03 seconds) and fifth in the 200 (24.52) at the state meet. She was second in the 200 (24.50) and third in the 100 (12.15) at sectionals.

Earlier in the season, she swept the sprint titles at the county (11.82 in 100, 24.07 in 200) and Region 7-AAAAAA (11.77 in 100, 24.00 in 200) meets.

“The season was half and half (good and bad),” Obeng-Akrofi said. “My times dropped significantly more than I even imagined, so I’m happy about times. But I don’t think I performed to the best of my ability at the state competition. But track as a whole was good this year.”

Obeng-Akrofi’s long-term potential in track is promising, too. She is still relatively new to the sport and just competed in indoor track for the first time last fall, part of an upside that made her attractive to college recruiters.

She chose to run for Columbia, picking it over fellow Ivy League school Brown earlier in the recruiting process. Schools like Alabama, Georgia State, Penn and others followed with offers, but she stuck with her initial choice, fulfilling a personal goal.

“(The Ivy League) is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Obeng-Akrofi, who was born in Ghana and moved to the U.S. when she was 1. “I was never really sure which Ivy League school I wanted to go to. But I did strive to go to an Ivy League school. … (Columbia’s coaches) were the most adamant and kept in most contact with me. The difference between Columbia and Brown was the emphasis on academics and athletics. They focused on both. Athletes have their own advisors and get first choice of classes to help schedule around practices. They’re looking to win, too. At Brown, they wanted to win but academics were ranked higher (than athletics). And I wanted a more equal balance.”

At Columbia, Obeng-Akrofi plans to follow a pre-med track. The 4.0 GPA student hopes to be a pediatric neurosurgeon.

“I knew I had a special athlete to lead our team when I first got the track job and started doing my research on our athletes, but what I did not know, at the beginning, was how strong of a student (Obeng-Akrofi) was,” Williams said. “I was blown away when I took a look at her transcripts and test scores. I knew from there that she was destined to run on the next level.”

Obeng-Akrofi is eager to spend more time on track and field in college, while also getting a top-notch eduction and living in New York City.

“Columbia trains at The Armory and that track is amazing,” she said. “I’m ready to go onto the next level with my track. My goal is go to the Olympics and this just seems like one step closer to the Olympics. I know it’s more rigorous training in college. I know it’s more work required of me, but I feel like I’m ready.”