Acer Iverson wasn't always a standout runner, but his grit and determination has now led him to the 2022 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships where he will compete in the 5k and 10k. Here we look at a story from 2017 by contributor Sam O'Donnell-Hoff.
Two years ago was the first time I met Acer Iverson. I was a senior on the Roseville cross country team when he joined at the start of his 9th-grade year. He had decided to come out for cross country following middle school track after he broke 5:00 in the 1600m with minimal training. As a freshman, he showed great potential, but at times seemed more concerned with weaving tales about eccentric distant family members, stories I'm still skeptical of, than running.
His entrance into the sport probably was far from perfect. "The first time I came to captain's practice I was pretty out of shape. The seniors started to pick the pace up and I got dropped. The second day I got a side ache and would've gotten lost, but then junior Eamon Kuhne slowed down to help me find my way through the woods," Iverson recalls.
After opening the season over 19:00 and on JV, he would drop his time down to 17:21 before the end of the year. Impressive, but nothing unheard of; he wasn't even the fastest freshman on the team.
Fast forward to track. I remember Acer started the season out slowly, running above 5:00 in the 1600m and even taking walk breaks during some runs. But one day, everything seemed to click. We were running 800m intervals, and Brian Bailey, our coach, needed to divide the team into training groups. After some contemplation, Bailey begins to list off the front pack. After nearly half a dozen names, he mentions Acer's. But as Acer steps forward, Coach Bailey has a change of heart. He assigns Acer to the middle group, under the impression that Acer is not at the same fitness level as some of the upperclassmen. He doesn't listen though and takes the workout out hard. As he glides past, the upperclassmen share a glance, certain that he'll drop back soon enough. But that moment never comes.
By the third week in April, Acer was already knocking on the door of a sub-10 3200m. In just the 3rd meet of the season, he ran an incredible 10:02. At that point, people started to take notice. However, his true breakout performance would come two weeks later. At true team sections, there are plenty of big names entered in the 3200m - names like Hamza Ali, Alex Plasencia, Joseph Minor, and David Dahl. After coming through the halfway point in just under 5:00, the front pack switched gears, setting the stage for a huge negative split. I recall coming in well behind him and asking our coach how Acer did as soon as I finished. Beaming ear to ear and struggling to control his excitement, he said, "9:42". After that race, everyone knew that Acer Iverson would be a name to watch in the coming years.
Iverson's sophomore cross country season went about as well as it could have. He consistently ran in the mid-16s for the majority of the year, culminating in his first All-State honor after taking 20th at State. However, his best performance came a week later at NXR Heartland. Electing to run the open race (as his team was not strong enough for the championship), Iverson took 3rd in the merge with a time of 15:50, a PR of 25 seconds, and his first time sub-16. That success carried over to track, a season in which he ran 9:30 in the 3200m to take 5th at the State Meet, making him the top returner to the event entering this spring.
His ascent continued into this cross country season. Despite several circumstances limiting his summer mileage, an undefeated regular season culminated in a runner-up finish at State. After he and Khalid Hussein had separated from the pack, Iverson made his key move on the big hill in the woods, but Hussein had a decisive response shortly after.
"I was really really hoping to go and win State, and so I just toed the line with confidence in my strength, and the thought that I'd give everything I have today. The race itself went exactly how I had planned until the last half-mile. I couldn't get enough of a lead on Wayzata's Khalid Hussein and ended up passing my VO2 max before the final straightaway when Khalid passed me," he recounts.
Ranked 1st for much of the season, Iverson entered State with one goal in mind. And though he'll have to wait a year before another chance, recent history bodes well for him: Hussein, Connor Olson, and Obsa Ali were each runner-up as juniors before earning titles as Seniors.
As his State finish didn't satisfy him, Iverson entered the NXR Heartland race the following weekend with unfinished business. "I was thirsty for redemption," he told me. "I was seeded to take the last qualifying spot to NXN, so I was intent on getting it."