By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
TIFFIN – When your coach refers to you as a phenom before you’ve even made your varsity debut it is safe to say expectations are fairly high.
That was the situation Clear Creek Amana freshman Brandon Barker found himself in this fall.
Five meets into his varsity career Barker has showed why Clear Creek Amana coach Ben Robison had such high hopes for the first-year runner.
Barker has notched top-eight finishes in four straight meets including a runner-up finish at the Oskaloosa Invitational last Tuesday.
“We definitely expected a lot out of him but he’s handled the training very, very well, better than most freshman do,” Robison said. “It’s worked really well for him to have older guys that he can run with right now.
Barker’s ability to step into the lineup and immediately become a front of the pack runner has helped Clear Creek Amana solidify itself as a contender in Class 3A.
A state meet qualifier last year, 3A No. 12 Clear Creek Amana has finished first or second in each of the four meets Barker has notched a top-eight finish.
“We have been working hard all year and it’s been paying off,” Barker said. “I’ve just been trying to run hard at meets and it works out for us as a team.”
Barker was impressive in his debut race, finishing 39th at the 21-team Cedar Rapids Prairie Invitational last month.
The 39th place finish by Barker was the second best performance at the event by a freshman behind only Jacob Green of Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
“I think that was a good start to the season for us,” Barker said. “It showed us where we were at.”
Barker has only picked things up from there.
He was eighth at the Tipton Invite and 7th at the Regina Bob Brown Classic before his breakthrough runner-up finish at Oskaloosa last week.
“I was pretty happy with how that went,” Barker said. “I thought the course would be pretty bad but it wasn’t quite as hilly as I thought it would be so I was pretty happy.”
Barker followed up his runner-up finish at the Oskaloosa Invite with a seventh-place finish at the Solon Invitational on Monday in a career-best time of 17:10.
The individual performances by Barker helped the Clippers win the Oskaloosa Invite and finish second as a team on Monday at Solon.
“He definitely proved to himself that he could do it and Monday night we saw a different gear out of him that we had not seen yet,” Robison said. “His confidence is boosting for sure.”
Courses vary and level of difficulty differs but the time of 17:10 was the fastest time for Barker by more than three seconds.
Barker entered the season with the goal of breaking the 17-minute mark.
“My big goal that I am still working toward is trying to break 17 minutes,” Barker said. “I am trying to get a little bit closer to that every meet and eventually, hopefully get there.”
Halfway through the first season of his career Robison has seen more than enough from Barker to back up the high expectations he laid out in the preseason.
“Monday night at Solon was the first time I have seen real footspeed out of him but he can grind the middle mile of a race like it’s nobody’s business,” Robison said. “I can’t wait to see as he gets older and actually puts some muscle mass on what he’s going to look at.”
In the past two meets Barker has been the top finisher for the Clippers.
The first three meets of the season Barker trailed only sophomore Nick O’Connor among Clear Creek Amana runners.
The competition between Barker and O’Connor starts in practice and has helped both runners.
“We’ve had a lot of healthy competition in practice,” Robison said. “Brandon and Nick do not like to lose to each other and every day the last 100 meters in a race and it’s really starting to pay off for him for sure.”
Barker said the entire team has helped to push him both during workouts and meets.
That competition is a big part of what has the Clippers thinking about another state meet appearance.
“It’s a really good group,” Barker said. “We get stuff accomplished but we also have fun.”