TALLAHASSEE — Navigating the terrain at Tallahassee's Apalachee Region Park, James Zentmeyer had 400 meters left and two runners to hold off in Saturday's Class 4A state cross country meet.
The Sickles junior should have been hallucinating by then, his body and mind protesting that he was not meant to run 5 kilometers this hard. But he kept telling himself he needed to stay a front-runner as the pack gathered behind him.
As he approached the finish with Miami Sunset's Nicholas Diaz, Zentmeyer was re-energized and found a higher gear. It was enough for Zentmeyer to maintain second place in 15 minutes, 23.16 seconds, less than a second behind Diaz.
"I just told myself in this race I needed to go hard, kill myself and hang in there," Zentmeyer said. "It's the hardest race I've ever run."
Though his go-for-gusto approach did not produce an individual state title, it helped Zentmeyer to his highest finish at a state meet and set a personal best by more than 30 seconds.
"It was a battle, and I had to put everything I had into it to make sure no one caught me," Zentmeyer said. "I just left the last mile up to God."
Plant's Jack Guyton was 13th in 4A in 16:08.32.
In Class 2A, Jesuit's Tim O'Loughlin placed ninth in 16:16.61. "I wasn't too happy, mostly because I wasn't too fast," he said.
O'Loughlin's slower time was due mostly to a layoff stemming from an Achilles tendon injury that sidelined him a few weeks at the start of the season.
"Occasionally, I can still feel it when I'm running," O'Loughlin said. "It was the time off that hurt. But I'm happy for the team because everyone else is peaking at the right time."
The Tigers placed third with 148 points, the highest finish among Hillsborough County teams. Phillip Robbins, who was 22nd (16:36.58), joined O'Loughlin as the only Tigers to finish in the top 25.
Plant's girls were sixth in Class 4A with 210 points. The top two Panthers were Bailey Sullivan (16th in 19:17.26) and Anna Montgomery (29th in 19:31.51).
In Class 3A, King's Sneha Sathish was 13th in 18:56.64.