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Stonewall Jackson High School cross country runner Zach Wine runs through the woods at New Market Battlefield Park on a recent training run. The junior has been one of the Generals’ top runners for three straight years.

QUICKSBURG — Zach Wine had a tough decision to make before his freshman year and he decided to go out for cross country instead of football. It’s been a decision that paid off for him and the cross country team.

The Stonewall Jackson junior said he ran in track as an eighth grader and had success so he decided to give cross country a try and loved it.

“We’re really blessed to have him,” Stonewall Jackson cross country coach Mary Clanahan said. “He’s a really intelligent kid. He’s one of the tops in his class. He’s meant a lot to our program because he’s brought a younger generation in with him. Next year is not going to be a happy year for me watching him run those last meets. He’s so coachable and if he decides to run after Stonewall (in college) then somebody is going to be very blessed to have him. He’s just an all-around great kid to work with.”

Wine had plenty of success as a freshman. He led the Generals that season and finished 24th in the Class state meet in 18:03. He helped lead the Generals to a sixth-place finish as a team.

“It was really fun making it to states and doing good that year,” Wine said. “It was a learning year because I was brand new to it. I didn’t think I would end up in the top few of the team that year. I thought I would be in the middle.”

He followed that up with a solid season last year. The Generals finished ninth as a team and Wine was 55th individually in a time of 18:56. Wine said he wished he would have done better at regionals and states, but he was happy for the team’s success.

Wine said that when he’s racing he tries to stay mentally tough and keep himself motivated.

“Most of the time I’m thinking about the race and where I’m at in the race,” Wine said. “And I’m thinking about some of the people that I normally run close to and if I’m close to them in the race. And trying to beat some of the people in front of me.”

Clanahan said that Wine’s intellect helps him with his running as well as his work ethic. She said that he’s not afraid to ask the coaches what he needs to work on to get better.

“He’ll do exactly what we tell him to do,” Clanahan said. “And he’ll ask us what do you think I need to do? Most kids will say ‘oh, I’m going to go run.’ He will come to us and say ‘what do you think I need to do?’ Or ‘how can I get this better?’ And we’re real appreciative that he takes it serious. It’s fun but he takes it serious, too, especially when he gets out there and its competition time.”

Wine, who also swims on Stonewall Jackson’s swim team, has also had plenty of success in track and last year even started doing jumps on top of his running events. Wine was part of Stonewall Jackson’s state-qualifying 4x800 boys relay team last season. He said that he likes track better than cross country.

“I like track better because of the relays and jumping,” Wine said. “I find it more fun.”

This season Wine has battled some ailments. Early in the season, he was sick and then suffered an ankle injury later that slowed him down.

While Wine has been hampered a little this season, sophomore teammate Ethan Bly has flourished. Bly has led the way for the Generals most of the season, and Wine said the two push each other and make each other better.

“He’s really surprised me this year, because last year he was middle of the pack,” Wine said. “And then this year he’s really stepping it up and he’s leading the pack this year. ...We can push each other in practice and help get our times down.”

Clanahan said that Wine has helped Bly and the other younger runners, by being a leader by example.

“He has really challenged Ethan (Bly) to be a better person because Zach’s that kind of person,” Clanahan said. “Zach goes out and he thumps the ground really hard and Ethan says ‘if I want to be good, I need to be like Zach. I have to keep my mouth shut in practice and do what coach asks of me.’ Because Zach is a competitor he brought that out in (Bly).”

The Generals have a young squad with only three seniors on the team. They have three sophomores in their top seven.

Stonewall Jackson has qualified for the Class 1 state meet for the last two years, but this year they are a Class 2 school. Stonewall will host the Bull Run District and Region 2B meets this season and Clanahan said that should help their chances, but she knows it will be a challenge to qualify for states again this year.

“I know their hearts are wanting to go back to state, but the reality is they’re really going to have to tough it out,” Clanahan said. “But they’re like ‘hey to get to state you got to get off of our course.’”

Wine said his goal for the team this season is to qualify for regionals and he’d like to make it back to states, individually if the team can’t make it.

He said he’s always enjoyed competing at the state meet and it’s been a good experience.

“It’s been fun to get there and compete there,” Wine said. “And to compete against a lot of good competition, which pushes me a little bit more and makes my times better.”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com