Marvin Ridge junior Jake Blizzard has only been running competitively since the eighth grade, but with hard work and the desire to be the best in the county, Blizzard has catapulted to the top of the cross-country scene.
Blizzard has devoted his summers to trimming seconds off his mile time – a devotion that led him to earn the fastest performance from a Union County runner at the Class 3A Midwest Regional meet and 3A state tournament this year.
“I started running in eighth grade after my parents encouraged me, but I was awful,” Blizzard said. “I knew I could be better. I progressed a lot through the year, and toward the end of eighth grade I was running with some of the fastest guys on the team.
“I decided to run on the Marvin Ridge team (my) freshman year, but even then I wasn’t very good. Sophomore year I took a huge jump, and this year I had my breakout race.”
After drastically improving his time by more than a minute over the course of his high school career, Blizzard had a solid performance at the Southern Carolina’s conference meet, finishing third behind Cuthbertson’s Danny Sodano and Weddington’s Ryan Hobbs.
But it was at the regional meet when Blizzard proved he was the county’s fastest runner.
At the Midwestern Regional on Oct. 26, Blizzard showed up to McAlpine Greenway Park knowing that he needed to stay with the top pack of runners, but what he did was unprecedented – shaving 30 seconds off his personal best and finishing the race in 15 minutes, 44 seconds, making him 2013 Union County Weekly Boys Cross-Country Runner of the Year.
“It was a great feeling,” Blizzard said. “Through the first mile I was at 4:45 and I was really surprised because I was still with the lead pack. That was my goal, to stay with the lead pack. At the two-mile (marker), I was at 9:58, which was a two-mile (personal record) for me so, I knew I was on pace to clock a fast time.
“For the last mile, I knew I had to stay strong and not fall off. Seeing the clock felt so good. It was awesome.”
His time earned him a fifth-place finish and the top performance from a Union County runner, besting competitors from Weddington’s talented team by 10 seconds.
With a breakthrough performance under his belt, Blizzard went into the 3A state meet with the Maverick team feeling confident they had the talent to garner a top-five finish.
But things didn’t pan out exactly as Blizzard wanted.
“I went out way too fast,” he said. “I was probably leading the first 400 meters. At the first mile, I was at 4:40. I was with the guys that I needed to be with but then people started passing me. I mentally zoned out of the race and I didn’t think about it.”
During the last stretch of the race, Blizzard caught a glimpse of Weddington runner Mitchell Resor approaching him from behind, and the threat was enough to push him across the finish line with a time of 16:16.17, beating Resor, the next Union County finisher, by just less than three seconds.
Blizzard finished the 3A meet in 15th place, but it wasn’t enough to carry the Maverick team. Weddington grabbed the state title while Marvin Ridge came in seventh place.
“I wasn’t pleased with my time,” Blizzard said. “I wanted to get top 10 or maybe even top five. Our team wanted to get in the top four or five, but for some reason we didn’t click that day.”
Even though Blizzard didn’t live up to his own expectations, he’s already looking forward to next year.
“I want to be in the top three next year, individually and as a team,” he said. “I think we’ll be strong and I know I’m going to be pushing my team a lot this summer because I know what we can do.”
The rivalry with Weddington only fuels Blizzard’s desire to become that much better.
“Seeing Weddington, they’re just so good and we all want to beat them,” he said. “That’s definitely something we think about, because we’re friends with all the guys that run there. Seeing them get the state ring makes me want to get one, too. I know that’s going to push us.”