BLACKFOOT — Shakayla Morgan is banking on her untapped potential.
So is the College of Southern Idaho.
Morgan, a two-year cross-country competitor who hasn't run track since ninth grade, is still a bit green as a runner. It's what makes her a great fit for CSI's team.
The Blackfoot High School senior signed to join CSI's cross country and track teams Thursday at the high school. Family, teammates and friends gathered to commemorate the event, as did Golden Eagles cross country/distance track coach Lindsey Anderson.
Anderson's teams are built with athletes like Morgan. And in two seasons since CSI revived its track and cross country programs, the Golden Eagles have succeeded on a national level.
Enter Morgan, who improved her race time by nearly seven minutes from her first high school meet to her last and ended her prep cross-country career with a 19th-place medal at state.
“At the beginning, I was just doing (cross country) to hang out with friends,” Morgan said. “As I got better, I realized that I could have a chance, especially this year as I got (times) down into the 20s. I was like, 'OK, I have a real shot at actually going to state.'”
Morgan's first prep cross-country season included times of 26 minutes, 52.4 seconds and 26:23.1. At the 2018 4A state meet, she clocked a personal-record 19:32.3 — the fastest time by any Blackfoot runner that season.
Morgan credited her improvement to plain-and-simple hard work, along with some natural ability. She also plays for the Broncos' softball team, which combines with her brief running career to limit potential burnout as she heads to the college level.
“I look for athletes specifically who have run well in high school, but are a little bit underdeveloped, maybe haven't run their whole high school career, or maybe who do other sports as well, because I do like to look for all-around athletes,” Anderson said. “They tend to not get injured as much and aren't necessarily burnt out from running after they leave high school.
“Shakayla fit that mold perfectly,” Anderson added. “She's just super athletic, has a ton of potential. I'm really excited to work with her and see what we can do to help her develop further. I think she's going to surprise a lot of people.”
Anderson was hired to lead CSI's track and cross country programs when they were reinstated in 2016. Fall 2017 was the school's first cross country season since 1998-99.
The Golden Eagles women's team finished fourth at the 2017 NJCAA championships, and improved to third in 2018. Three CSI runners notched top-10 finishes combined in the two championship meets.
Anderson won seven individual Big Sky Conference championships in indoor and outdoor track at Weber State University, was a two-time NCAA All-American and competed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. She's passing her pedigree onto her athletes and hopes to help them progress into Division I-caliber runners.
“She works you hard, but she's also there for you and she wants to have the best for you,” Morgan said of Anderson.
Morgan will reunite with former Blackfoot teammate Abby Hurst at CSI. Hurst was the Broncos' top runner in 2017, but suffered an injury that ended her senior track season. Anderson said Hurst served as CSI's team manager this past fall while she rehabbed from her injury.
“I'm really excited to run with Abby again,” Morgan said. “Abby was one of my favorite people. She always inspired me.”
There were eight other Idaho products on CSI's 2018 cross country roster, including multiple runners from state championship teams Twin Falls and Sugar-Salem.