The Matanzas senior broke the school cross country record last season but was unable to finish the state meet because of sickness.
Zach Spooner has some unfinished business to attend to.
The Matanzas High senior broke the school cross country record at regionals last season and then got sick on the ride home and was unable to finish the state meet a week later.
He also missed track season because of an injury.
This year, he’s healthy and motivated.
“Who knows what Zach can run? But he’s seeded eighth (in Class 3A), based upon times from last year, so he’s in the mix absolutely for a state medal,” said Matanzas coach Tim Kane. “But who knows?”
After last season, Kane doesn’t want to guess what Spooner can accomplish in his final high school season.
“He had a fantastic cross country season (last year),” Kane said. “He went from running in the 18s to running in the 15s.”
Spooner’s best time entering his junior season was 18:34 in the 5-kilometer distance. His goal was to lower that by two minutes to 16:34. At regional, he ran a school-record 15:55, finishing second to eventual state champ Patrick Koon of Tallahassee Leon.
“Zach ran with him for two and a half miles,” Kane said. “He was the only kid to run with him.”
Spooner was seeded in the top 10 at state the following week, but he was sick all week and tried to run but couldn’t finish the race.
“On the way home from regional, one kid was sick in the van. And the next day, everybody who was in the van got sick,” Kane said.
Spooner was unable to do any serious running during the week, but he thought he felt well enough to run at the state meet in Tallahassee.
“States was very tough for me,” he said. “I was sick all week, but in hindsight, it wasn't just being sick. It was a lot of the mental element. I remember that night I was so hoping I did not have to run the race the next morning, because I was so nervous. And on the line, it was the worst feeling for me. It was especially bad because you feel horrible because you're sick, and you're at states for the first time and you just don't know if you're going to run well. It just got in my head.”
Spooner struggled for about a quarter of the race before dropping out.
Trying to put the season behind him, he trained hard for track and field, but in preseason he strained an oblique muscle. He was in the middle of running 800s, when he felt what he thought was a side cramp. By the end of the run, he was limping.
“Zach being as tough as he is, runs through a side cramp,” Kane said. “So, we knew it wasn't a side cramp.”
After therapy, he started running again about halfway through the season, but coach and runner decided it was best to not push him back too soon.
“I'm glad that I got the opportunity to interact with my team a little bit, and I could relax,” Spooner said. “But I also had the feeling that I was missing out on a season I'm not going to get back again. My sophomore times weren’t good, so it’s going to be a lot of pressure this year to get my times (down), because I don't want 10:19 to be my 2-mile (personal record) for my career.”
Kane saw Spooner’s potential when he was a freshman. And team captain Ethan Drost, who is now at West Point, inspired him to reach that potential.
“We would just go out to eat and Ethan (Drost) would pep talk me. He’d say, ‘You’re so good. You got to get here. This should be your goal. This is where you should be.’”
“We would just go out to eat and Ethan would pep talk me,” Spooner said. “He’d say, ‘You’re so good. You got to get here. This should be your goal. This is where you should be.’”
Last season, it all clicked.
His times dropped from the first meet. He ran a 17:52.4 at the season-opening Spikes & Spurs Classic at an extremely muddy Flagler Fairgrounds course.
His breakout meet was on Sept. 25 at the Katie Caples Invitational in Jacksonville. Spooner won a meet for the first time, out-running 184 other runners in the high school varsity division with a time of 16:52.
“I think that was a turning point,” Spooner said. “I felt like all the boys were coming together as a team. And it was just crazy. I won the race and I broke 17s.”
He broke 16 minutes to win district at Ponte Vedra with a 15:58 and then ran a 15:55.4 at the regional in Panama City Beach, breaking the school record by one second.
“I’m going to break that pretty quickly this season,” he said.
He’s been training hard since his doctor cleared him to run again last spring. Even a month-and-a-half long trip to Europe this summer, in which he spent time in England, Ireland, France, Germany and Finland, didn’t derail his training.
“I wasn't sure what shape he’d be in coming back here,” Kane said. “But he came back very much in shape.”
“I’ve always been pretty strong-headed,” Spooner said. “When I really put in that effort, I get a lot done. It's just putting in the work. I've just got to pull everything together — my physical, mental and my spiritual — and I'll be fine. I'm ready. I'm ready to go.”