Friday was a big day for Pat Schlapia, as well as Brandon Phipps.
Phipps signed a National Letter of Intent Friday morning to attend Northwest Missouri State University on a track and cross country scholarship.
In doing so, he will follow in the footsteps of his Creston track coach, Schlapia, a 1982 graduate of Northwest Missouri State and a member of the track and cross country teams there.
Although he has had other athletes run in college, including former Panther cross country runner Emily Wignall at Northwest Missouri State, this is his first boys track athlete to become a fellow Bearcat runner.
“This is a special day for me,” said a beaming Schlapia after the signing ceremony Friday morning in the CHS office.
Schlapia has been in contact with Northwest head coach Scott Lorek ever since the Bearcats began showing interest in the Panther multi-sport athlete. Phipps was also considering offers from Iowa Western Community College and Southwestern Community College.
“We had some initial contact with coach Lorek, and some follow-up conversations,” Schlapia said. “They were very impressed with what he was able to in track while being in all of the sports. They see untapped potential for him when he focuses just on running. They know he can still improve.”
Phipps, a football quarterback and defensive back, makes his debut in cross country next fall.
“Most of their track kids run cross country, too, so they want me in the cross country program,” Phipps said. “It will be good for me to be a year-round runner. I’ve never done that before. I think that will get me to the next level, so I’m excited about that. I just thought Northwest would be a real good fit for me, being a four-year school at the Division II level.”
Phipps said he could be used in a wide variety of distance races, anywhere from the 800 to the 5,000 meters. He’s especially been suited to the 1,600, where he’s undefeated this season, and he’s picked up his speed as a key member of the Panther 4x800 relay team that holds the school record and is ranked a close second in Class 3A.
Phipps has been running splits in the 2:00 range on the 4x800 team that won a conference title Thursday. The unit of Bryce Briley, Cooper McDermott, Jay Wolfe and Phipps is undefeated this season except for the Drake Relays, where they placed 15th.
Bothered by a stress fracture last year, Phipps’ best times to date are 9:41.79 in the 3,200 as a sophomore, when he placed fifth at state after running 21st at the Drake Relays in 9:49.12. His best in the 1,600 was a seventh-place finish at state in 4:32.64.
As a junior he won the Hawkeye 10 3,200 race and was second in the 1,600. He won both races at the conference meet a year ago. This year he won his second conference title in the 1,600 in 4:36.39. He’s currently ranked fifth in Class 3A in that event.
Phipps made a strong debut as a freshman, taking 15th in the state in the 3,200 in 9:52.23 and placing fourth in the conference in the 1,600 in 4:46.74.
He attained these lofty rankings in distance running while also being a key varsity performer in football, basketball and baseball.
“I think they have a gold mine in Brandon, because he can run the 800 or the longer distances,” Schlapia said. “It will be exciting to see what he’s capable of doing when he’s just focused on running.”
Phipps, son of Dana and Dean Michaelson and the late Kevin Phipps, said Northwest is also a good academic fit for his future aspirations.
“I want to go into education and they’re known for their education program,” Phipps said. “I want to teach, be a coach and eventually get into athletic administration.”
This year’s Northwest Missouri State team finished eighth in the MIAA Conference meet with 51.25 points. Sophomore Ryan Cox won the 1,500 meter title in 3:54.50 and freshman Tim Grundmayer was fifth in 3:56.69.
The team also includes freshman sprinter Adam Purdy of Winterset and junior sprinter Collin Streicher of Red Oak.
Besides Wignall, Audrey Bolinger and Brianna Maitlen of Creston are members of the women’s track team at Northwest. Bolinger was on the Bearcat 4x400 relay that took third in the conference meet, improving their school record to 3:45.32.