Ask Northwest Christian’s Ava Shackell where she’d prefer to be positioned on the Navigators’ 4×400 relay team and the senior will take the team-first approach and say wherever they need her.

Throw the same question to head coach Mike Michael and you’ll get a different, more definitive, answer.

“I like my anchor to have that killer instinct. Someone who is going to go and chase someone down,” Michael said. “Ava has that mindset. She just won’t quit.”

Shackell, a multiple-time state placer, is the lone senior on this year’s Northwest Christian girls track and field team, charged with helping lead the Navigators to a second consecutive Class 2B state championship.

She is already off to an incredible start as she is currently the 2B state leader in the 800, 1600, and 3200.

“And she’s going to run a lot faster later in the season,” Michael said. “Her stride is so efficient. She’s a natural. She doesn’t even think about it.”

Tosin Faleke
Junior Tosin Faleke currently holds the second fastest time in the 400 in the 2B classification this year. Photo credit: Grant Clark

It’s that latter part that Shackell has really embraced this season, and the results have been spectacular.

“My mindset this year is just to go out there and take it lap by lap. I just want to enjoy running,” Shackell said. “This year I’m not stressing about what the end time is going to be or what split I’m supposed to hit. I’m just going to go out there and race and have fun with it.”

Shackell played a large role in helping the Navigators claim the state crown in 2018. Individually she finished second in the 800, fourth in the 1600, and seventh in the 3200.

In just the first month of the season, she has already trimmed significant time off her best marks from last year in both the 1600 and 3200.

She stopped the clock in a blisteringly fast time of 5 minutes, 4.64 seconds in the 1600 at the 34th Annual King’s Invitational in Shoreline on April 13. The time is an eye-popping 24-second improvement from her top performance in the event as a junior and the best time in the 2B classification this year by a gaudy 23 seconds.

Onajite Ifie
Sophomore Onajite Ifie has helped the Navigators’ 4×400 relay team post one of the fastest times in the state this year. Photo credit: Grant Clark

Shackell, who finished second to teammate Eliana Summers in the 800 at state last year, also hit a personal record in the 3200 at the King’s Invitation, crossing the wire in 11:30.91.

But it’s not just in the individual events that Shackell’s talents are being put to good use as she is also one of two returning members, along with junior Tosin Faleke, of Northwest Christian’s 4×400 relay team that finished second at the state meet in 2018.

Summers and Megan McSheffrey made up the other half of the team last year. Both have graduated, but Shackell says their legacy continues to positively motivate the team.

“They were such great examples and such great leaders for us last year,” Shackell said. “They definitely left the blueprint on how it’s done. Being a senior this year I wanted to fill their shoes in how they led this team.”

While Shackell finds her name atop the 2B standings in the 800, 1600, and 3200, Faleke is knocking on the door in the 400. Her time of 1:02.48, set at the King’s Invite, trails only Davenport’s Darby Soliday (1:01.71) in the 2B ranks.

Gretchen Stottlemyre
Sophomore Gretchen Stottlemyre holds the eighth best 2B time in the 800 this year. Photo credit: Grant Clark

Much like Shackell, Faleke can be plugged in anywhere in the 4×400 and deliver exceptional results. Michael has used her as the anchor twice, the leadoff once and in the third slot twice.

Joining Shackell and Faleke on the relay team has been junior Jacalyn Tague and sophomores Onajite Ifie and Gretchen Stottlemyre.

“They’re all so versatile. We’re still figuring out what combination works best, but it’s a good problem to have,” Michael said. “Some runners you tell them they are going to anchor, and sheer terror takes over their face. Some you tell them they are going to start, and they don’t want that. We don’t have that with this group. This year they all have that killer mentality.”

Jacalyn Tague
In addition to the 4×400 relay, junior Jacalyn Tague also competes in the 400 and 3200 this season. Photo credit: Grant Clark

The Navigators finished second to St. George’s in the 4×400 state finals, posting a time of 4:07.48 in the race. Michael believes this group can hit similar marks.

“I think we will be right back down around 4:10 again this year,” Michael said. “We really haven’t done any speed work yet and our times right now are pretty solid.”

The team’s best time this year of 4:20.69, which was set at the 33rd Annual Curtis Viking Relay Championship, is second in the 2B classification, trailing only St. George’s (4:20.10).

“It’s not just one person, it’s all of us,” Shackell said about the team’s success. “It definitely makes a difference when you have three other girls, or in our case, four other girls, who are out there pushing you. It makes it so much nicer. We all have the same goal, the same mindset. We are helping each other however we can whether that’s mentality or physical.”

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