'Helping me pursue my dream': Ackerman, Shepard sign letters of intent to continue athletic careers
Whether she was going to continue her track and field career collegiately or not, Dickinson High senior Meghan Ackerman had every intention of attending North Dakota State University this fall.
However, following a stint of job shadowing just weeks before graduation, Ackerman had a change of heart, switching her major to Speech Pathology, a program that was not available at NDSU.
Her heart was still set on going to college in the Fargo area, though. Visiting with Minnesota State University-Moorhead on Wednesday, May 8, Ackerman not only found a school that offered the major she was looking for but also the definite chance to be a student-athlete.
One week later on May 15, from the Dickinson High Gym, Ackerman signed her letter of intent to join the Dragons women's track and field squad, where she will compete in the triple jump, long jump and pole vault.
"We went and visited, I really liked it. I ended up meeting with their track coach and he offered me a spot on the team, so I thought I shouldn't pass it up," Ackerman said. "I just really liked the campus, I liked the coach. I just thought, in the long run, it was going to be a good decision and be good for me. It's really last minute, but I'm happy with my decision and I'm glad I chose Moorhead."
Ackerman says it was a big relief to know that her track and field career will extend beyond the Class A state track meet, which begins on May 24. She said it's nice knowing that if the meet doesn't go as planned, 'I'm not done.'
She will enter her final high school competition as a potential favorite in a pair of events. Ackerman has posted the second highest vault in the state this season of 10 feet, 3 inches. In the triple jump, she stands on top of the state leaderboard after she set a Midgets school record with 37-04 on May 13.
Ackerman began participating in track and field during middle school and soon had success, as she placed eighth at state in the pole vault as an eighth-grader in 2015. Initially undecided on what events she would actually compete in, she made more of a commitment toward the field events when she started high school.
"My influences have probably just been my parents and my coaches, just always pushing me to do my best. My brother also pole vaulted, and he also helped me along the way and coached me," Ackerman said. "I kind of experimented in middle school, but as it got more serious, I was like 'OK.'"
Qualifying for state 11 more times since 2015, Ackerman isn't just a strong track and field athlete, as she has aided the Midgets to five state gymnastics team championships.
Even with her accolades, she didn't realize her ability, much less that she had college-level potential, until she changed her mindset.
"I guess most times, my biggest competitor is myself. I doubt myself a lot and I get in my head a lot and overthink a lot. So then as soon as I got out there and compete and I know what I'm capable of, I just have to go out there and do my best," Ackerman said. "As soon as I started qualifying for state and I had those marks, I think I realized that I am capable of a lot, I just need to not overthink and get in my head. Don't think, just do."
Ackerman signed her letter of intent with her parents, fellow teammates, assistant coach Jim Fahy in attendance, all of whom who were happy to see what her talent and persistence has resulted into.
"It feels good to finally see her hard work finally pay off," said Katlin Klein, Meghan's mother. "I think she always wanted to become a (college) athlete, and she is now able to go to the next step, or the next level."
Shepard becomes a Marauder, with Pavek on the assist
While a change of a major pushed Ackerman toward MSUM, Dickinson senior Cody Shepard, and his decision to play hockey collegiately, was influenced by a former Midget.
Shepard and Dickinson Trinity graduate Peter Pavek were teammates on the Dickinson boys hockey team from 2016-2018. Having completed his freshman season on the ice for the University of Mary men's hockey team this past season, Pavek felt like the Shepard was an ideal person to join the Marauders squad. The senior forward agreed, singing his letter of intent on Wednesday as well.
"Last year, it was (Pavek's) first year on the team and he told me how big of a success it was and how much the team got along," Shepard said. "I went down to their campus and I thought the school was amazing. The coaching staff was amazing. Meeting some of the players, we all became pretty good friends pretty quick. That was probably the biggest push towards Mary for me."
Shepard was a member of the Midgets varsity team for the past three seasons, helping the team make two trips to the state tournament, which he said was the highlight of his high school career. He scored 42 goals and delivered 35 assists during 65 games with Dickinson.
Along the way, Shepard began playing for Team N.D. as part of the North Dakota Amateur Hockey Association.
"Talking to scouts there and them telling me what I'm good at, what I needed to improve on, as well as playing with bigger guys and bigger teams, that showed that I probably could play after high school," Shepard said.
Capable of playing center or either wing position, Shepard said his speed at his size is the biggest asset he will bring to the University of Mary, along with his leadership. He began developing his skills at three years old when his parents put him in a pair of skates for the first time. From there, a love affair commenced as he would go on to become the first person in his family to play hockey.
"(My father) was into football and my mom liked baseball, so they didn't really want me in hockey, but some of my friends were doing it," Shepard said. "I just kind of stuck with it because of my friends the first few years and then I fell in love with it. They tried to take me out when I was about six, but I wouldn't let them."
Eventually, Shepard's parents embraced the idea of their son competing on the ice and were amazed with his journey along the way. As Shepard finally signed his name on the dotted line, they were by his side, along with his teammates.
"These kids that came to this signing, they all started out together when they were four years old, learning to skate," said Cody's father, Art Shepard. "Not just my son, but it was really neat to see all these seniors progress together over the last 14 years. It was really cool."
"My mom and my dad, they've only ever missed one game my entire life in any sport," Shepard added. "Just their support and everything, helping me pursue my dream instead of having to stay here and work, it means a lot."