SCHENECTADY — When Alika Jackson-Bergin joined the Schenectady High School outdoor track and field team during her sophomore year in 2019, she had no idea just how far it would take her.
As it turns out, in terms of distance, it will be just shy of 300 miles. In terms of achievement, the 400-meter specialist has yet to find out.
“I’m waiting to see what college can do for me in track,” the 18-year-old senior said.
The sprinter will be heading west to compete at Division I Niagara University in a handful of months, bringing together a relative newcomer to the sport and a program that’s still in its infancy, too.
Jackson-Bergin has only two full seasons of running under her belt, having competed that outdoor season in 2019 and indoors during her junior year before COVID-19 wiped out the remainder of scholastic sports year.
“She is still green. We still go over basic meet stuff,” Schenectady track and field coach Joe Bennett said. “I think she’s really going to take off at that level.”
Some impressive times by Jackson-Bergin, the potential to go even faster and a strong work ethic drew the interest of Niagara coach Christine Kloiber.
“She took a lot of interest because my times keep going down,” Jackson-Bergin said. “When I started I ran a 65 [in the 400], and I’m down to 58.”
Jackson-Bergin ran a personal-best 58.78 in the 400 when, on her birthday, she placed fifth at the 2019 Eddy Meet at Schenectady and earned a spot on the podium. That’s the day she realized that she could compete at an elite level. Earlier in the season, she found out that she could win, when she prevailed in her first dual meet 400.
“One of the best moments of my life,” said Jacksn-Bergin, whose mom, Tanyetta Jackson, had also competed for the Schenectady team. “We were even on the [last] curve and I kicked it to the line. I was so excited that I won.”
“Once she ran in a meet, she was hooked,” Bennett said. “I used to hound her all the time to run track. I would see her in gym class and I knew she had competed in gymnastics for years. I knew there was something there.”
As a junior, Jackson-Bergin’s starting leg helped Schenectady’s 4×200 indoor relay team set a school record (1:45.44) when it placed ninth in the state meet preliminaries. That effort is part of a resume she put on the NCSA (Next College Student Athlete) recruiting website, and subsequently several colleges contacted Jackson-Bergin including Niagara.
“It started with an email and then a Zoom call and it went from there,” said Jackson-Bergin, who studies in Schenectady’s International Baccalaureate program and will attend Niagara on a combined academic and athletic scholarship. “I didn’t think running would be something I would be doing in college.”
Niagara started its track and field program in 2014, and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference member has been led by Kloiber since its inception.
”I am excited to be part of that growth,” Jackson-Bergin said. “I want to stand out and make Schenectady look good. I want to make a statement that we have a lot of kids here with potential athletically and academically.”