High School Sports

Dimond High freshman Nevaeh Watkins aspires to be Alaska’s next great hurdler

Heading into the finals of her first major track and field competition at the high school level last week, Dimond freshman Nevaeh Watkins didn’t have championship expectations for herself. She didn’t even envision winning any events, although she hoped to place in the hurdles and high jump.

Watkins shocked many in attendance, including herself, when she bested reigning Division II state champion McKinley Eddington in the finals for the girls 100-meter hurdles at the annual Big C Relays last Saturday.

“I didn’t know I could actually win,” she said. “A bunch of my teammates were like, ‘I didn’t win anything freshman season,’ and I thought I wouldn’t win anything.”

Running a personal-best time of 48.54 in the 300-meter hurdles, Watkins was narrowly edged out by Eddington for first place (48.34) earlier in the day. She tied for the third-best mark in the high jump with 4-foot-6.

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Securing the first big win of her high school career over a quality opponent filled her with confidence, and now she hopes to follow in the footsteps of one of her role models while establishing a legacy of her own.

Former Bettye Davis East Anchorage star Olyvia Mamae was the gold standard in Alaska girls track and field in the last two years. She dominated the 100- and 200-meter sprints and the 100-meter hurdles, claiming six state titles across the three events. The two-time Gatorade Player of the Year is now a freshman at North Dakota State University.


“I look up to her quite a lot,” Watkins said. “She went (Division I), so that’s pretty big.”

The two trained and competed with each other as members of the same club team, Alaska Running Academy.

Now that Mamae has graduated, Watkins said Chugiak’s Ellen Kruchoski — who took third in the 100-meter hurdles at the Big C Relays — and Dimond teammate Sarah Dittman, who came in fourth, were the other top DI hurdlers early in the season.

Her goals for this year are to win a state championship and perform well in the high jump at Nike Nationals in June, a trip she’s currently fundraising for with plans to attend.

Although her late father ran track and field for the Lynx in the early 2000s, it was Watkins’ mother, Tanya Azcona, who insisted she start competing in the sport when she was in middle school.

“She kind of threw me in it,” Watkins said. “She was like, ‘You need a sport, so I’m just going to put you in track.’”

Azcona said her daughter was “very reluctant” at first but didn’t let it stop her from doing what she knew was for the best.

“When she was a little baby, she went from crawling to pretty much running,” Azcona said. “She picked up crawling and then was running. I was chasing after her at (age 1) and I couldn’t keep up with her.”

Her mother knew that when the time came to put her in a sport, track and field would be the obvious choice.

“I threw her in it and from there, she got picked up by ARA and she’s been training with them all summer,” Azcona said. “She’s been putting in a lot of work.”

While Watkins is embarking on her high school track and field career, her goal is to be remembered someday as one of Alaska’s greats, like Mamae and Eagle River’s Jordyn Bruce.

“I’m just trying to be in the top three hopefully,” Watkins said.

Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.