Hughson High senior Zach Morrett had no intention of running cross country in high school.
It was during freshman roundup, the day when incoming ninth-graders gather on campus to get their class schedules, textbooks, lockers, ID cards, and all the other essentials of being high-school students, that Morrett was approached about joining the team.
“A friend of mine was there with a clipboard signing up kids to be on the team,” said Morrett, who won his first Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 title when he dethroned two-time champ Steven Grolle of Sonora on Nov. 16 in Folsom. “He snagged me and said, ‘You’re tall, you’re fast, you’d be so good at this.
“I basically joined the team to shut him up.”
Four years later, Morrett will make his fourth trip to the CIF State Cross Country Championships when he competes Saturday morning at Fresno’s Woodward Park.
As a high school runner, you can’t do any better than four state-meet appearances.
But he’s not the only section champion from a Stanislaus District program who’ll be running in a fourth state meet.
Riverbank’s Mikayla Florez, the three-time reigning D4 girls champ, returns to Fresno to try and better her seventh-place finish from a year ago.
Additionally, she’ll try to help the Bruins to the overall team title, as Riverbank’s girls and boys teams captured the D4 team title.
Even though Morrett joined the Huskies cross country team to get his friend off his back, he soon learned he had a knack for running.
“I decided to give it a week,” said Morrett. “The guys on the team were cool, the coach wasn’t a drill sergeant, like I thought he’d be, and I started getting good at it. So, I kept at it.”
Morrett hopes to finish in the top 10 on Saturday.
“I could be anywhere from first to 15th depending on how I race and how everybody else races,” said Morrett, whose personal best is 16:02.
He figures he needs to run in the neighborhood of 15 minutes, 45 seconds, over the 3.1-mile course. He ran a 16:15 at the section meet to beat Grolle by 11 seconds.
“He doesn’t have the body type or the gait of, say, German Fernandez,” Hughson coach Joel Bernard said, drawing a comparison to the Riverbank great who won the 2007 state cross country title by an amazing 49 seconds. “But as far as mental focus, he’s in the same ballpark.
“Mentally, he’s as up to the task as anybody I’ve ever coached.”
Florez, according to Riverbank coach Monte Wood, is a naturally gifted athlete.
“When we first tested her jumping ability – we do plyometric work – you could tell that she was a really good athlete,” said Wood. “Her speed is her strength … she ran a 61 (seconds) in the 400 meters. She could run on our 4x100 relay team.”
Still, despite a lot of natural ability, Florez always is looking for ways to improve.
“It really gets hard sometimes, putting in all these miles,” said Florez. “I get tired, but I know it’s helping me get better.”’