BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
OTTUMWA – The Indian Hills Community College men’s track team finished last year rated 28th in the country at the junior college level.
This year, the Warriors are rated 10th in the country in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association Division 1 rankings, and part of that success is former Fort Madison standout Elijah Barnes.
Barnes, who finished fourth in Class 3A in the shotput at last year’s Iowa High School State Track Meet in Des Moines, is now ranked 11th nationally in his freshman year at the Ottumwa community college.
LeRon Williams, the Warriors’ men’s head track coach, attributes a lot of the school’s success in this year’s indoor season, to heavy recruiting and kids buying into the system. He said Barnes has been one of those student-athletes.
“We expected a lot out of him and he’s grown with what he’s doing in the weight room,” Williams said. “He has a good attention to details and he’s a student of the sport. He has set some really high standards for himself and we love what he’s doing.”
One of the goals Barnes, a 2018 graduate of Fort Madison High School, has set for himself in his first year of college, is to finish as a JUCO Div. 1 All-American.
He will get that opportunity the first weekend in March at the NJCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas.
“I’m pretty self driven,” Barnes said from campus Monday afternoon. “In high school, I wanted to place at state and I did and here, i want to end up as an All-American. Only thing’s changed is that now i have more free time, so I can work on shot put and throwing more than in high school, especially with this being the only sport I’m in and not three or four.
To be designated an All-American, Barnes would have to finish in the top eight at championships in March. Williams said he thinks that’s an attainable goal for his freshman.
“I think it’s definitely attainable. He’s got some small things to work on, but there’s no doubt in my mind in how he competes, he can toss a big one when it comes to a national meet and he seems to be putting it all together at the right time,” Williams said. “He had some good positions at Nebraska this weekend, he just had it come off his hand the wrong way.”
Barnes finished 14th at the Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational where he threw against NCAA Div. 1 schools such as Georgia, Nebraska, and Iowa, to name a few.
Barnes said he had some nerves throwing in front of coaches and athletes from the biggest schools in the country, but said it was good for him.
“I think the biggest thing with the nerves was not thinking that I was going to throw bad, but just the throwing in front of all those top athletes and coaches,” he said. “But that’s what I’ve wanted to do, especially with that meet. It exposed me enough that now I can go back and look to see what I can do to better prepare myself.”
Barnes said he’s transitioned well from high school to college. One of the biggest hurdles was going from the 12lb shot used in high school to a 16lb. shot at collegiate events.
His best throw in high school was the state meet his senior year where he threw 53’7″ for fourth place. His best throw this year with the 33% heavier ball was 50’11”.
Williams said Barnes didn’t shirk from the heavier weight or the competition of college vs. high school.
“He took that on head first. Honestly, it’s almost as if he didn’t know the ball was heavier. Obviously he did, but it just doesn’t matter to him,” Williams said. “He’s matched that with his work ethic in the weight room and more attention to detail in the ring. He’s got room for improvement and some things to work on the ring, but he’s up for that.”
Barnes said it was an issue of transition.
“For me personally, I’ve transitioned better than a lot of people. I’ve been to two meets with kids I competed with in high school and I’m making a better transition that some of them,” Barnes said. “One kid who destroyed me in high school, I beat by a couple feet at the Iowa meet.
Barnes has a warm up meet for nationals at Pittsburg, Kansas this weekend before the Regional XI Championships at Buena Vista in Storm Lake the following weekend. Then the squad will take a weekend off before heading back to the Pittsburg.
During the indoor season Barnes competes in the shot and the weight throw, and during the outdoor season, he will throw the shot and the discus, and may compete in the hammer throw.
The recent success has Barnes thinking about his future plans, which at one point included a construction degree. But he said he’s found a passion and working with former FMHS throwing coach Andrew Troxel and the Indian Hills staff has him thinking that staying in the sport as a coach may be in the future.
“As of right now, since this is a two-year school, I plan on transferring to a four-year school at some point, and compete at a D-1 school. Ultimately, I want to be a throwing coach. I got pretty passionate and would love to coach for a university at some point.”
He said, again, that the transition doesn’t intimidate him.
“I think it all ties together. I worked hard in the weight room and still have connections with Andrew Troxel. He’s very dedicated to helping me compete at the highest level. I give most credit to these coaches here and to him,” Barnes said.