Northfield senior Elizabeth Acheson has spent most of the last three years showcasing her exceptional ability in the 400-meter run.
In 2017, she aided the 1,600-meter relay to second place at the state meet, before she helped power the Raiders to fourth in the event last year in addition to speeding to second in the individual 400.
She has the school record in the individual 400 and the relay, but after winning the Big 9 Conference title in the event and nearly setting the conference record, her and Northfield coach Karl Viesselman made a decision. She was done with the individual 400, and instead was going to run the 800 at the section meet.
That decision paid off, as she won the section title in two minutes, 15 seconds at Saturday’s Section 1AA championships at Lakeville South High School to qualify for the Class AA state championships Friday and Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul.
“I ran the open eight a couple times this season just randomly and I ran the four-by-eight a couple times, and it just fit with my stride pretty well,” Acheson said. “I have a distance background with cross country, so I think it just worked for my body really well.”
For one of those random runnings of the individual 800, a few days before the conference championships during a dual meet at Red Wing, Acheson blazed to a time of 2:11.99, still the fastest reported time in the state of Minnesota this year and at the time close to one of the 25 fastest times in the country.
After that run, which broke the school record, Viesselman was finally convinced to pull Acheson out of the 400 and insert her into the 800.
“She broke the school record, so somewhere in there I figured it out,” Viesselman said. “Eventually it got through.”
Acheson didn’t have an issue with the change, since the addition of the 800 to her section and state docket provides a bit more mental stimulus than running 400 after 400.
The change from last year will take a bigger physical toll, though. Saturday, she had only 45 minutes between winning the final of the 800 and anchoring the 1,600 relay to first, while running her best 400 split of the season.
“Not many people can do that,” Viesselman said.
Not many people also view the 800 as “just a little longer” than the 400 like Acheson, who later acknowledges as a not entirely logical sentiment.
“It just goes by so fast,” she said.
Really, Acheson said, the only difference between the two is the 400 requires her to more or less sprint the entire race, while she’s able to distribute her speed throughout the two laps around the track in the 800.
Viesselman said part of the reason for the successful switch is because of the character of Acheson, who will run cross country and track next year at Division II University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.
“She’s worked hard all year, and it’s rare you get your best athlete as also one of your hardest workers,” Viesselman said. “That’s a special thing.
“She does every piece of every workout and never complains, never needs a break – she just is a true leader by example,” he continued. “It’s, ‘This is what we’re supposed to be doing, guys, keep up if you want to be good.’ She doesn’t say it with her words, but she says it with her actions.”
Acheson pairs that work ethic with an athletic ability diverse enough to allow her to not only anchor all four relays at different points throughout the season, but also serve as one of the better Raiders in the high jump and the long jump.
That led to her being named one of 10 finalists for the Minnesota Ms. Track and Field Award, with the finalists being narrowed down the three Thursday and the winner announced Saturday at the state meet.
Whether or not she’s able to add any more hardware, including a potential first state title, to an impressive high-school resume will be decided this weekend, but that won’t change what Viesselman said he’s realized over her career.”
“I’ve said it to a few people, that over my years of coaching I’ve coached six Division I athletes and I’m not so sure that she’s not better than all of them,” Viesselman said.