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High School Track and Field: Hornberger breaks Section VI mark in 3200, nationals await

Lake Shore’s TJ Hornberger set a new Section VI record by running a 9:03.20 at the state championships last weekend.(Photo courtesy of David Eckhardt)

TJ Hornberger may already be one of the best long distance and cross country runners ever to lace up a pair of shoes in Western New York, but he’s biding his time, improving season by season, in a quest to reach his ultimate goal of eventually capturing a state title.

In that time, over the past three school years, the Lake Shore junior has recorded some astonishing accomplishments on the tracks and courses of New York State. The latest was running a 9:03.20 in the 3200-meters at last weekend’s outdoor state championships to break the Section VI record in the event and finish fourth in New York’s large school scholastic ranks.

Coming off a third-place finish in the state Class A race during the cross country season, taking fourth is the best he’s done yet at a state track and field competition. He also reached the podium with a sixth place in the Division I 1600 meters after running a 4:17.

A three-year state qualifier in both sports, Hornberger continues to gradually creep up the leaderboard.

“Slowly but surely,” he jokingly confirmed.

“I think any progress is good progress,” Hornberger continued. “So, I’m just happy with the progress that I’m making. I’ve managed to get some good (personal records).”

Next for Hornberger, it’s off to nationals this weekend in Greensboro, N.C. where he qualified to run the 3200 and participate in the race’s fastest heat. Even though Hornberger has already bettered his previous record by nine seconds to accomplish what he did at states, his coach, Trish Ippolito, does not think it’s impossible for him to run even a sub-nine minute race.

After all, Hornberger seems to rise to the challenge on most occasions. He did so again when making the fastest heat of the 3200 at states. He’s ranked 14th in the country going into the national competition, which will feature the two-mile race around 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 15.

“I know as his coach when he’s in the fast heat, he will perform,” Ippolito said. “We knew he was going to have a fast time at states but he did even better than I expected. That 9:03 is huge for us...Hopefully, it will be even better than at states. He’s in the championship heat of the race after that time of 9:03. So, he’s going to be ready to go.”

In preparation for nationals, Ippolito has Hornberger tapering off the distance and doing shorter and faster workouts. She likes that he’ll go into the race not knowing any of the competition so that he is less worried about who he needs to beat and instead, simply goes out and races.

“I hear good things about this competition,,” said Hornberger, who will also visit a few potential colleges down south while in the area. “I’m just going to go down there, try to get a good time and get the experience. I’m very excited. I’ve been waiting the whole season to go down to North Carolina.”

It’s the competitiveness of the 3200 at states that should help Hornberger be ready for what lies ahead in a national track and field competition. Hornberger also competed nationally for the first time after the 2012 cross country season.

“I pretty much stuck with the pack as much as I could throughout the race (at states). I held in there until the last few laps and then did what I could at the end,” Hornberger said. “It was a very fast field. It was the top guys in the state all in the same two miles. You have good times on the track running with such a high level of competition.”

Hornberger didn’t reach a personal best in the one-mile race at states but was happy just to reach the podium after having to run both races on the same day with the first day of competition being cancelled due to rainy conditions. Not surprisingly, fatigue set in for the 1600 after running his best time ever in the race prior. His best in the 1600 is a 4:15.

The extent of Hornberger’s talents go beyond just the distance runs. Along with owning the school records in the 3200 and 1600, he captured the top Lake Shore mark this spring in the 800 with a 1:54 and runs on the school’s 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams. He believes running the shorter distances help his speed and explosiveness.

Hornberger is so gifted, Ippolito and fellow coaches, like Jeff Connors, talk about the junior’s ability to break even more school records if given the chance.

“We joked that he could have the school records in the 400 up to the two miles,” she said. “So far, we’ve got the 800 and up. We said maybe next year, we’ll just try for that 400.”

Ippolito credits Hornberger’s willingness to listen to his coaches for the consistently improving times. She said he’s also got a tireless work ethic and a very supportive family. It’s actually difficult for her to convince him to ever take a little time off.

“He listens, so you have someone doing what they’re supposed to do,” Ippolito said. “He takes good care of himself and it shows. He goes the extra mile to make sure he has proper form, does the drills, does the things he needs to do.”

After nationals, he’ll take two to three weeks off — after being pushed by Ippolito to do so, before starting to prepare for a senior season with so much promise. He plans to work his way up to running 65 to 70 miles a week during the summer and then focus on his in-season workouts and see where they take him during the cross country season.

Ippolito has been doing her homework and looking ahead for both the cross country and track and field seasons next year to see who ahead of Hornberger is graduating. They both came away from that research agreeing that it’s looking good for next year.

“It is,” Hornberger concurred.

“We are looking forward to some state titles and that’s a big goal for him next year,” Ippolito added.
Seen here last season, Frontier sophomore McKyla Brooks has become a force on the state level in the triple and high jumps. (File photo by Ron Olson)

Also scheduled to run at nationals in North Carolina is sophomore McKyla Brooks, who comes off what should be the first of a number of state titles, as she won the triple jump with a leap of 38-feet, eight-inches. She also took fourth in the long jump with an 18-2.5. She had long jumped 19-feet coming into the competition as the top seed.

Frontier’s Brooks, a state qualifier since the eighth grade, took second in the triple jump and fourth in the long jump during the indoor season.

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