North Xtra: North Hills grad an All-American

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When Alex McCune was finishing up as a senior at North Hills High School in the spring of 2011, he believed he had the ability and the discipline to become a decathlete on the collegiate level.

The problem was finding a college where he could hone his skills as a track athlete and develop himself for the 10-event regimen.

"I wasn't very recruitable out of high school," said McCune, a 20-year-old Ross resident. "So, I contacted Akron, and they responded and I went there as a walk-on."

If Zips' track coach Dennis Mitchell initially thought he was taking a chance on McCune, it didn't take him long to change his outlook.

That's because McCune has flourished as a versatile athlete for the Zips. At the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., earlier this month, McCune earned All-American honors by placing sixth in the heptathlon (which is seven events, the indoor version of the decathlon).

He piled up 5,837 points. The top eight finishers earned All-American honors. The other honorees were from Duke, Georgia, Arkansas, Oregon, Wisconsin, Buffalo and UCLA.

En route to his All-American effort, McCune won the pole vault with an effort of 17 feet, 101/2 inches, which is the record for Americans competing in the heptathlon.

"You could tell he had a lot of coordination," said Mitchell, who is in his 19th year as Akron's track coach. "He said he wanted to be a decathlete, and he began to figure out the events quickly."

McCune, a junior majoring in geology, competed in both the intermediate and high hurdles and was a long jumper at North Hills. But since he pronounced himself "average" as both a runner and a jumper, he believed an event featuring many disciplines might be the best fit for him.

It turned out he was a fast learner when it came to the pole vault.

"If he would have competed in the open pole vault [at the NCAA Indoor Championships], he would have finished fifth," Mitchell said. "That's his best event."

McCune said his effort in the high jump remains a work in progress.

"I've struggled with it," he said. "It's an event where you are twisting your body in different directions, and the hardest thing for me to understand was to put myself in an awkward position."

Both he and his coach are confident that he has a bright future in both the heptathlon and the decathlon.

"I think he has a great future," Mitchell said. "He's going to be one of those who could be the best in the nation."

McCune won't rule out taking things an additional step.

"The Olympics are getting more realistic each day," he said of perhaps trying out for the U.S. team for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. "I'm going to try and see how close I can get, and it will be fun to chase after it."

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