WARSAW – Jake Poyner will be on the running path instead of the soccer pitch Saturday.
That’s a great thing for the state-bound Warsaw boys cross country team.
Poyner, the senior leader of the No. 6 Tigers, leads the way as coach Jim Mills’ talented team looks for a top five finish at the State Finals in Terre Haute.
Poyner, ironically enough, could be playing for a state championship Saturday with the No. 2 Warsaw boys soccer team (who plays Columbus North at 3:30 p.m. in Indianapolis for the Class 2-A title). The talented senior played soccer his freshman year at WCHS and is the nephew of highly-successful WCHS soccer coach Scott Bauer.
Poyner, who led the Tigers to a 15th place finish at State a year ago, still thinks about the other sport but has no qualms with his choice to run.
“I definitely miss soccer, but I made the right decision to run cross country,” said Poyner. “I think I was called to do this. I really enjoy this and how the team works. It’s been a journey, but I’ve been blessed.”
Poyner notched a second-place individual finish last Saturday at the New Prairie Semistate in a time of 15:49 as the Tigers turned in an impressive runner-up team finish behind No. 2 Valparaiso. With Poyner, junior Ellis Coon and senior Robert Murphy all capable of All-State performances (top 25 finishes) on Saturday, Warsaw sits in a great position.
“This year feels different,” said Poyner prior to practice Wednesday at Grace College. “I want to run Saturday and be proud of the way I ran when it’s all done. I’ve struggled at state in the past and I’m motivated to prove people wrong who say I don’t run well in big meets.
“This is for the team too. We want to be on the podium (top five finish). The crazy thing I have no idea on the outcome. It’s going to be a dogfight. We could finish anywhere from 1-9 if we show up and run well. I always do feel pressure because I know that I’m being counted on. I want to nail this Saturday. It’s a big deal to me.
“I also want to have some fun Saturday and feel the joy of being there. Sometimes we lose sight of just how blessed we are. It’s just great how God puts it all together for us.”
Poyner placed 42nd overall individually at State in 2011 with a time of 16:30. He did not run at the sectional to rest and then won the title at the Culver Academies Regional in a time of 15:54. Warsaw won both the sectional and regional team championships.
Poyner, who ranks 10th in his class with a 12.95 GPA (on a 12.0 scale), is still looking at college running options. He has visited Alabama and Lipscomb and still plans to visit Kentucky and Ohio State.
“It’s going to be exciting to move on to college and take on a new role on a new team,” Poyner said. “But, I’m going to miss all these guys. I’m going to miss the fun, the camaraderie and the relationships. That’s what it’s all about.”
The humble, thoughtful Poyner will definitely be missed.
“He’s an assistant coach,” said Warsaw head coach Jim Mills of Poyner’s value to his team. “He’s just a great young man. He’s humble and a leader and a thinker. He’s raised the bar. He’s really a mentor to our younger guys on the team.
“It’s going to be pretty tough to lose all these seniors. As far as Jake goes, the only person I can compare him to that I’ve coached in 25 years is Amy Yoder at East Noble. Jake is the only other runner I’ve coached like her in regards to doing all the extra things to become better, the attention to detail to do the little things.”
Mills expects great things from his team on Saturday too.
“I think all three of them (Jake, Ellis and Robert) can be All-State (top 25 finishers),” emphasized Mills. “They’ll go for it and they’ve proven they are capable of it. I definitely expect us to be on the podium as a team. That’s been our goal all season and I’ll be disappointed if we’re not up there at the end on Saturday.”
The Warsaw lineup will include Poyner, Coon, Murphy, senior Brysten James, sophomores Daniel Messenger and Michael Compton and freshman Owen Glogovsky. Also slated to travel to State are juniors Ismael Calderon, Tyler Houvener and Ryan Goon. At the State Finals in 2011, Calderon placed 70th overall with Coon 71st, Murphy 76th, Compton 126th and James 138th.
The boys race Saturday is scheduled to begin at 1:45 p.m. It will be run on the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course at the Wabash Valley Sports Center outside of Terre Haute.
The boys field of 24 teams also includes Goshen, Northridge and Mishawaka.