Osseo’s all-time track winner leaves behind records, fond memories

BY BOB SAN

sunpressnews@ecm-inc.com

When Anuli Okonkwo joined the Osseo High track and field team four years ago, she had no idea she was embarking on a career that would rewrite many Osseo career records.

This June, Okonkwo climaxed her brilliant career with a state championship medal and a place in the school record book as the Oriole with the most state meet medals of all time.

"I didn’t know it until now. It’s really nice," Okonkwo said. "It’s the genes in my family. My uncle ran in the Olympics for Trinidad, my dad played soccer and my mom ran track. I thank my parents for the genes that make me run fast."

Fast is the right word to describe Okonkwo on the track. A specialist in the 200-meter dash, Okonkwo is also a strong runner in the 100 and 400 and a key member of Osseo’s powerful sprint relay teams.

Okonkwo joined the track team in ninth grade at the urging of sister Chiamaka. She experienced success immediately, qualifying for state in the 200 and 4×200 relays. That summer, she was selected to compete at the Nike National in North Carolina. She counted that as one of the highlights of her career.

"We ran against some of the top relays from all over the country," Okonkwo said. "We got to see all the good runners. It was fun to watch."

Okonkwo continued her success at Osseo and went to state in her sophomore and junior and seasons in the 200, 4×200 and 4×100. In her final season, she qualified for state in the 200, 4×200 and 4×400.

Okonkwo tasted much success throughout her career with numerous conference and section championships. But one thing that had eluded her was a state championship medal. She took care of it and finally fulfilled her dream in her final state meet when she teamed up with Phillis Webb, Morgan Bialke and Brieanna Puckett to win the state 4×200 championship in a record time of 1:40.22.

For Okonkwo, the state title ended years of coming so close to winning it all. She had several second and third place state finishes, including a second place in the 4×200 in 2009, a third place in the 4×100 in 2010, and two very close runner-up showings in last year’s 4×100 and 4×200 relays. Finally, in her last state meet, Okonkwo got to stand on the top podium.

"It’s really emotional," Okonkwo said. "That’s my goal since ninth grade and I had been so close.Second place, second place, third place. But I got there and it was really fun to win state."

Okonkwo concluded her Osseo career by running fourth in the 200 final. In all, she finished with 11 state medals. Okonkwo credited her teammates over the years and the coaches for the success she had enjoyed at Osseo.

"My teammates helped me a lot. They will be my friends forever," she said. "Coach DeVries and coach Hollis helped me out a lot. They kept telling me this is my year and it was my year. I have been with coach DeVries for four years and we have developed a bond that no one has."

The state track meet capped a great year for Okonkwo, who was also a member of the Oriole basketball team that won the conference and section and took second place in the state tournament.

"No one expected us to go that far and I was happy we got that far," Okonkwo said. "It was a lot of fun."

Okonkwo’s four-year high school career is over and she came away from it with many fond memories.

"It was bittersweet. It was a fun journey," she said. "I love high school track. I have met a lot of great people and friends I would not have met and I got to go to all the cities in Minnesota. I am a better athlete and person because of Osseo. But I am happy I am done and going on to college."

"Anuli is the most decorated Osseo runner of all-time," Osseo coach Cullen DeVries said. "She had four state appearances, won four all-conference and holds multiple school records. She is a very gifted sprinter who has been committed to track and field for four years at Osseo. She has learned to compete by being involved in multiple sports and activities at Osseo. By being involved with school activities and being productive in the classroom, she has earned a chance to attend and compete at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee."

Okonkwo will join sister Chiamaka at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she will compete in track and field. She is excited about the new challenge ahead and the opportunity to reunite with her sister.

Chiamaka Okonkwo was a top Osseo runner in her own right and was a member of the 4×100 relay team that won Osseo’s first-ever state relay championship in 2006. Anuli is glad she finally got her own state championship medal.

"Now we are equal," Anuli said with a big smile. "She is doing really well and is a top hurdler on the team. I can walk to her house to see her instead of calling her. She can help me out. I will still be independent but it won’t be as hard as if I am by myself."

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