Shelby – Huck Finnegan sat down to put on his running shoes during the early hours of a beautiful summer morning in Shelby.
As he began tying his laces tightly, he deepened his thoughts and began to focus on the morning workout he was about to break. He quickly tied his laces, banged on his earbuds, opened the front door and spread out on the quiet roads of his neighborhood. Putting one foot in front of the other, his mind took him to a different place.
That place was Hedges-Boyer Park in Tiffin, home of the regional cross-country race. He started his career exactly the way he wanted to start the regional race which would come in about five months time. His race ran through his mind and feet on the roads until he got to where he’s been chasing since last October.
It’s the last hill on the track that comes the last half mile to go.
Last fall Finnegan completed what he considered a disappointing race, finishing 22nd in the Regionals with a ratio of 17:33.0. It was that last hill where he felt like he was falling a bit, resulting in the slowest time for the Reginals in his career.
So as he approached that hill in his mind during his summer exercise, he squinted his eyes, gritted his teeth and increased his pace. He dashed over the imaginary hill in his mind, crushing him and never looking back. He finished his morning run strong and felt good about where he was mentally heading into his huge cross-country season.
Every day in the summer, he’d do the same thing. Ride through the streets of Shelby as if it were the regional cross-country course in Tiffin.
“It was more than a mental barrier I had to get over,” Finnegan said. “That last hill and the last half mile was something I knew I had to keep cool and get through. I knew the fitness was there; I just had to get through it mentally. I feel like it was mostly mental, but summer through all my workouts, the only thing What always motivates me is that regional race. It helped push me through the summer and fall workouts.”
Then came Saturday when it was time for Finnegan to run the race for real, completely dominating. He won the first singles regional championship of his career by breaking his best time ever at Tiffin with 16:04.3 to beat his best of 16:56.1 during his sophomore year and 17:15.01 ran as a freshman.
He has definitely put the 17:33.0 he ran last year so far in the past, and he can’t even see it now.
Shelby coach Chris Zwercher and Finnegan put together a successful plan for the regional race. Finnegan lined up with Prins’ Zander Wachler for most of the race before making his move up the scary hill. Weckler finished second with a 16:10.2 lead, six seconds behind Finnegan.
“All the work is done,” Zwercher said. “That’s the nice thing. And he’s really confident, so we’re excited to see what he can do. He’s been racing with the talent of the other guys in his race. We created the kid from Bryan last week, and in the last K match he moved him. I don’t really think we saw exactly what He can do so far. We got into a lot of Division I teams early on and gained confidence early in the season, but if we ran in those teams now I think his time would be faster than it is now. He looks very strong.”
Finnegan’s finish helped Shelby win the Division II Regional Championship where his teammates were also great. Luke Dininger was eighth in 16:36.2 and Indy Mayer 16th in 16:43.3, both of whom would have gone out individually had the Whippets not advanced as a team. Marshall Moore ran 17:19.2 to finish 28th and Carson Perkins was 30 in 17:21.0.
“We always have tight-knit teams,” Zwercher said. “When you go out and put the mileage together, it’s easy to build. People look at cross-country as an individual sport, but it’s the ultimate team sport when you look at it. Every guy in college is 20% of your team. We had Caleb Brown 14:40 but he It was just one point out of our five-point team. Every player on the team is very important, and this year they are very close because they depend on each other.”
And this is where Finnegan drew much of his motivation. He wants to do well so that his team can join him in bigger and better encounters.
It’s amazing having them with me,” Finnegan said. “One medal is a lot, but the second is something special. I love this team. I feel Mason (Hendrikson) had the most impact on me because he was my coaching partner all last season. It was hard having him leave last year, but he did so much for me.”
Now, Finnegan will set his sights on the next goal that eluded him during his high school career – finishing All-Ohio at the state cross-country meet. Finishing in the top 30 would be the perfect way to crown his cross country career. As a freshman, he didn’t run in the state and as a sophomore he was ranked 40th with 16:47.6 before ranking 73rd last year with 16:53.5.
This year is the year.
“I’ve wanted it since my sophomore year when I was in two different places,” Finnegan said. “Last year wasn’t the best, but that is. I want him this year.”
Zwercher thinks this is definitely the year. He said he had never seen Finnegan so focused and powerful.
“The mental side has gone down,” Zwercher said. “He’s become a completely different runner this year. He’s got an All-Ohio in 4×800 and on an indoor track so we’re excited to get him on the cross.”
Finnegan isn’t the only person who could earn Ohio’s first honor at a cross-state meet Saturday at Fortress Obetz in Columbus. Dinninger’s time last week at the Regionals was close to the top 30 at last year’s Division II state meeting. As his life went on, Meyer could also sneak in there.
“Luke Dinger has a great opportunity this year as well,” Zwercher said. “Mason Hendrickson got it last year and Luke was right about the same time as Mason last year. So I think we have a great opportunity for a lot of guys to have a magical day and win the All-Ohio Honors. That would be a big thing for the team. We want to finish the top five. as a team.”
As great as finishing All-Ohio would be for Finnegan individually, he’ll likely trade it off for team success. He will run the final cross-country race for the Whippets at 1 p.m. Saturday, and leaving with a highly successful team finish is priority #1.
“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Finnegan said of his last race. “I love this team and this program and it would really hurt to leave them after this season. But I know I will be with them during the indoor and outdoor seasons, so I just know I have to take it all in and have the best moments with them.”