In pursuit, it’s been a heck of a Chase
Zach Chase’s career as a runner has unfolded in developmental stages each building upon the other.
The finished project is still in production. So far so good.
The Christiansburg High School senior enjoyed simultaneous satisfaction last weekend at the Walker’s Run cross country meet in Marion as his team ascended to championship status and he won the first major race of his career.
“That was my first time actually being out front,” said Chase, a senior in his fourth season of varsity cross country competition. “A lot of thoughts were going through my head was getting nervous, I but I sort of calmed down over the next two miles and realized I could do this.”
Collecting the blue ribbon was big, but the largest breakthrough of all was his accepting that he could indeed become a major statewide factor in his sport this fall.
“He’s run for me for the past four years so we definitely knew he had the ability to do some big things,” Demons coach Shane Guynn said. “This year he’s stepped up in his commitment to the team and living up to our philosophy and expectations. He’s put himself on the track by being a great teammate.
“Since those things have happened, he’s really started to emerge as a formidable opponent.”
The most important step for Chase, in Guynn’s view, was when the runner gained an accurate understanding of what he was capable of. That light bulb moment came a couple of weeks ago at the huge Knights Crossing meet. Chase, who had previously typically been a middle-of-the-packer, started running up front, keeping in touch with the leaders, and ultimately finishing a satisfying fourth.
The two runners who finished directly ahead of him, Blacksburg’s Nick Link and Radford’s Walker Mogen (the race winner was Morristown, Tenn., runner Quintin McKinnish), were both familiar faces from rival schools and marks with which to measure Chase’s progress. That was huge, but only the latest in a series of developments that have made him a runner to watch in the rugged River Ridge District and beyond.
“Before that, I’m not sure that he was as confident of what he could achieve as we were,” Guynn said.
Chase agreed with that.
“Not being afraid to mix it up with those top guys was important,” he said. ”Last year, I sat back around the 12th-place region in most of my races. But this year, my training and my work experience this summer has really given me a better understanding of what is to come in the near future.”
Now that he mentions 12th place, that’s where he finished at the state Group AA meet last year. Coincidentally, that was also where his team came in.
“I got my PR then, 16:16, and made All State. Our team wanted to finish a little bit better, but in the end, we were all happy with our performances and we held our heads high that day.”
It was then that Chase came to the conclusion that concentrating all his athletic efforts on running had the potential for a big payoff. That persuaded hm to give up playing baseball, a sport he loved and had always played during the spring. In high school, he was playing baseball and running track during the spring, an arrangement that at times was personally dissatisfying from the perspective of either sport.
In the end, abandoning baseball was an agonizing process.
“It was not a decision made overnight,” he said.
Ultimately, the decision proved to be the right one for him and his cross country team. As he renewed his focus on running, he sought to inspire and lead his team. Of the top runners, four are seniors who have been with the program all along. They are Matt Spurlock, Neal Eaton, Alex Cooper, and Chase.
Being a senior of course has Chase looking to the future after high school. An outstanding student as well as athlete, he’d like to run in college. More specifically, his goal is to go to VMI and run there. He has his eyes open about the peculiar challenges of an education at the Lexington school but is undeterred. He’s already had initial conversations with coaches there and is hopeful something can be worked out.
Before that, what’s next? The district and Region IV meets are upcoming then the state. Guynn believes the team can have an impact at each level. As for Chase, he’s just starting to show what he can do.
“When he gets to state and the end of the race and if he’s in that top-five to top-eight, then he’s going to have a shot,” Guynn said. “At state, we all know that sometimes, anything can happen. What we have to do is make sure we put Zach in position to take advantage of that.”
To that end, Chase has been putting in the time.
-Ray Cox covers recreational, high school and college sports in the New River Valley. If you have information you’d like featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 381-1672.
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