Thursday November 28, 2013 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
SYRACUSE-BOUND — Lake Shore senior TJ Hornberger sits beside parents, Tom and Denise Hornberger. Standing behind them are coaches Trisha Ippolito and Mike Brinkerhoff and Lake Shore athletic director Daryl Besant. Photo by Michael Petro.
T.J. Hornberger cracked a smile in the final 100 meters, before crossing the finish line in the Class B state championship race a few weeks ago, in Queensbury.
The Lake Shore senior has dominated Section VI for four cross-country seasons, but said he had longed to win a state championship.
After third and second place finishes the past two seasons in the state competition, respectively, he attained his long-awaited goal in is final try.
After putting in the work he has, during four seasons, especially this past summer, Hornberger said he was going to truly enjoy the feat, as he ran in the home stretch of the state championship race. It was a feeling that carried over into his entire trip home from downstate.
“I couldn’t help but be smiling and I put my hand up as a I crossed the line,” Hornberger recounted. “It felt great. I literally had the best week of my life. I couldn’t help but be ecstatic about it. The while way home, I couldn’t stop smiling about it.”
Cross-country coach Mike Brinkerhoff said that he was also impressed about how loudly his athlete was cheered, during the awards presentation. Brinkerhoff noted that this reaction said a lot about Hornberger’s character and what made the senior so deserving of the title.
“They went through some of the classes and people cheered and it was great,” Brinkerhoff said. “They call T.J.’s name and were on the opposite side of the state, and the place goes crazy. And it’s not because he had the fastest time. He didn’t; he’s just a nice kid and has a great personality. That, to me, was even more surprising than him coming across the finish line in first. We loved it.”
That best week of Hornberger’s life also included making it official that he would be attending Syracuse University. He had that same smile as he celebrated signing his letter of intent to attend and be a distance runner for Syracuse, on Nov. 21 at Lake Shore.
Hornberger did some research of his own and noticed how good and how much better the Syracuse cross-country and track and field teams had become. The cross-country team just recently won its regional championship and is off to the NCAA Championships.
“I’m very excited to be a part of that next year,” said Hornberger, who will also run on the track and field team. “I’m excited to be part of the team and be around a similar group of guys as me, that come to work hard everyday at running. I feel blessed to have a great school like Syracuse look at me.
“I’ve been working for this the last four years of my life,” he added. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to try to get a scholarship.’ So, now, I did what I had to do and got that.”
Trisha Ippolito, Hornberger’s track and field coach and an assistant with cross-country, noted that the senior had many options – actually a pile of letters from prospective schools, including Ohio State and Providence. Brinkerhoff noted that, with Syracuse’s upside and its interest in bringing in the state’s best, it became a no-brainer of a decision.
“T.J.’s talent and work ethic have been phenomenal; he’s never turned down or scoffed at a workout,” Brinkerhoff said. “You knew it would just be a matter of time until it was recognized and awarded in this manner. He’s going to do very well.”
Hornberger said that, at states, he ran in the front pack throughout the first 2 miles and stayed in second until a hill early in the final mile, when he passed his main rival Brian Cook of Pearl River. Hornberger ran 3 seconds faster than he did six weeks earlier, when he finished second to Cook in an invitational.
“In that last mile, I thought to myself, ‘I need to get going,” Hornberger said. “So, I took off the last mile and gave it all I could.”
Brinkerhoff said he was running to several points in the race to meet Hornberger, so the coach joked, when the race finished, that he was almost as sweaty as his runner. The low temperature was perfect for Hornberger, who said he doesn’t like to run in the heat.
“It was exciting,” Brinkerhoff said. “He did exactly what we talked about; exactly how we set it up. He finished completely strong and didn’t even look exhausted, like the other runners. He worked it to perfection.”
The athlete will also have a chance for more state titles this winter and then in the spring, running for the Lake Shore track and field team. Before that, he will run in the Nike National Qualifier on Nov. 30 and then at nationals for cross-country next month in Portland.
“We can really see a difference in the whole team. When he’s running, he’s our leader and the boys look up to him,” Ippolito said.
“We have other state runners because of him. We’ll probably never see another runner like him, so it’s a sad but a happy time.”