WARSAW – Zeb Hernandez was not even sure if he wanted to run cross country during his freshman year at WCHS.
A few wise words from his sage coach Jim Mills helped convince Hernandez to give it a go.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Hernandez went on to have a fabulous freshman campaign a year ago for the Tigers, culminating in a spot in the State Finals at season’s end.
Now, what to do for an encore?
The sophomore has his sights set on a return trip to Terre Haute this October, but with some company.
“This year, I want our entire team to go to State,” said Hernandez prior to a recent preseason practice. “We have a young team, but I think that we can be a really good team this season. I think that we can make it to State. I’m confident that our whole team will do well this year.”
Hernandez and then senior Owen Glogovsky represented the Tigers at the State Finals a year ago after the team just missed qualifying with a seventh-place finish at the New Prairie Semistate. The top six teams from the semistate advance to Terre Haute.
“Owen set a great example,” said Hernandez. “He was a really good guy. I want to be that person. I want to try and lead the team. It felt good to go to State last year. I shocked myself.”
Hernandez placed second overall at the sectional and third individually at the regional as a freshman as the Tigers easily won team championships at both postseason events at Culver Academies. He was then 20th overall at the semistate and finished 52nd in a time of 16:11.3 at the State Finals.
“My coaches have really helped me,” stated Hernandez. “Coach Mills is just a great coach.”
Hernandez is just one of a quality quartet of underclassmen that coach Mills is counting on to carry the Tigers this fall. Juniors Lucas Howett and Taylor Mills and sophomore Xavi Ramirez give Mills plenty of reason to feel good about his team.
“We’ve got four really good runners,” stated Mills. “Taylor is the unknown because he has not run a race the last two years (due to injuries). But, he’s really been a leader in the offseason. He does all the extra things, like Jake (Poyner) used to do.
“Zeb is definitely a competitor. He does not like to lose. When that gun goes off, it lights a fire under him. He can really turn it on when he needs to. He’s like Ells (Coon) was. He’s got some kick at the end of a race.”
Mills, who has tutored a lengthy list of great ones in his program and throughout his long and distinguished coaching career, is glad Hernandez is donning the orange and black.
” I just sent him a text and was honest with him,” said Mills of his message last year. “I told him that he had an opportunity to be a tremendous runner. I think that I was able to stir in him more of a passion for running.
“Zeb has natural ability. We saw that from him in middle school. He just looks for reassurance at times and I try to give that to him.”
Hernandez and his teammates open the season by hosting the Tiger Invitational on August 23.