It’s not often in sports when a certain strategy or game plan works to perfection.
But indeed that was the case for Zach Morse on March 1, when the Oakton High School senior runner won an indoor state championship in the 1,600 meters.
Morse won the Virginia High School League’s Class 6 boys indoor championship race in Virginia Beach in a personal-best time (by seven seconds) of 4:16.73. He edged runner-up and defending champion Xavier Jemison of McLean High. The junior finished in 4:17.5.
Morse’s plan was to stay close behind while Jemison took the early lead and set a fast pace, then pass the McLean runner in the final 150 meters. Morse made the pass at just about that point and continued sprinting hard to the finish, winning by three or four meters.
“Things played out the way I thought,” said Morse, who will run in college at East Carolina University. “He took it out to a pretty speedy pace and I stayed with him, then used my kick on the final lap. He is very fast. My goal was to get first or second, but I never thought I’d run that fast. That was because it was such a fast pace right from the start. So he [Jamison] gets practically all of the credit for my personal-best time.”
In the 2020 state final, Morse finished fourth in 4:25.85 as Jemison won in 4:20.22.
Matt Kroetch is Oakton’s head cross country coach and assistant for the indoor winter team. He said Morse was prepared for the state final.
“It was a fast pace and Zach was able to maintain contact with Xavier from the start,” Kroetch said. “He really had to keep digging deep the whole race.”
Morse finished the indoor season as a triple-crown champion in the 1,600, also winning the Concorde District (4:36.76) and 6D North Region (4:27.58) meets at that distance. Jemison was second in the region (4:29.99).
“Each race got harder for Zach each step of the way,” Kroetch said.
Also at the March 1 state meet, Oakton senior Garrett Woodhouse, who will run at Utah State University, finished second in the 3,200 (9:34.25) and Oakton senior Arnau Tikhe was eighth (9:41.53).
The Oakton boys team tied for 11th place.
“It was a good meet for the Oakton runners,” Kroetch said.
Jemison also had a good state meet, additionally placing fourth (2:36.26) in the 1,000.
Also for the McLean boys, Eric Mizusawa was sixth in the high jump (5-8).
For the Madison boys at states, senior Nicholas Cloud was second in the shot put (53-63/4) and Jake Reiman third in the pole vault (12-6).
For the Marshall boys, Sebastian Malave was third in the 1,000 (2:33.2) and ran on the second-place 4×800 relay (8:11.28) and fourth-place 4×400 (3:30.72). Patrick Smith, Luke Hanzlik and Sean Sanders were the other 4×800 runners and Jason Harrington, Gavin Sandall and Sanders rounded out the 4×400. Marshall tied for 11th with Oakton.
For the Langley boys, the 4×800 relay was sixth (8:21.71), Jackson Ellinger was ninth in the 1,000 (2:40.2) and Jack Pino 11th in the 55 dash (6.92).
The top local finisher in the girls Class 6 state meet March 1 was Marshall senior Sarah Pounder with a fourth in the shot (34-41/4).
Also for Marshall, Torri McNabb was eighth in the 55 hurdles (9.47), Elizabeth Epstein eighth in the 500 (1:19.00), Emma Ford 12th in the high jump (4-8) and the 4×400 relay was sixth (4:09.9).
For the McLean girls, Thais Rolly placed fourth in the 1,000 (3:05.41), Aneka Andrews ninth in the 55 hurdles (9.53), the 4×800 relay took sixth (10:06.12) and the 4×400 ninth (4:16.07).
Lily Waters was eighth in the 1,600 (5:26.93) to lead the Langley girls.
PHOTO: Oakton High School senior Zach Morse won the state title in the 1,600-meter boys race. (Oakton High)