Eric S.Bartelt, Editor, Pointer View
Army men’s cross country has been blazing trails for the past two years with top runners Jon Anderson and John Mickowski leading most
course packs. With Anderson and Mickowski now graduated, a team that was in search of a new pace setter found its latest trailblazer in
Firstie Zac Reiter.
Reiter spent last season in and out of Army’s Top 5 running group just before setting a personal standard at the Patriot League championships with a run time of 25 minutes, 17.5 seconds in the 8-kilometer race.
His 25:17.5 time earned him 10th place at the PL championships and a spot on the all-conference team. Back-to-back strong runs against Navy, which Army won by a point, and the PLs helped raise Reiter’s confidence to the next level for this season.
Reiter is now looking to reach the highest level, and his dream is to be running in the same neighborhood as Anderson and Mickowski, who got third place at the PLs in 2007, by the end of the 2009 cross country season.
“I envision myself doing something like that,” Reiter said of Anderson’s first-place 24:19.4 run at the PL championships last year. “Coming into this season, I’m feeling pretty strong. There’s not a day that goes by where I’m not like, ‘what can I do this season that compares to what Jon Anderson or John Mickowski did,’ although I’m not going to say that I’m as talented as they are, but I definitely can get motivated by those guys and what they accomplished.
“I look at (what they did) and think I can do some pretty amazing things, too,” he added.
The Rock Springs, Wyo., native, has put on a clinic early in the season, doing what he set out to do, and has earned Top 3 finishes in the first two races of 2009.
Reiter ran 53 seconds faster (15.46.8) than his first race last year at the 5-kilometer Army Open Sept. 4. Then, he followed that up with an incredible 26:15.2 versus perennially-dominant Cornell Sept. 11, finishing in third place against an opponent that is tough to crack into the Top 3 finishers.
His meteoric rise this season has caught the eye of head coach Troy Engle; however, Reiter’s work ethic and leadership are reasons why Engle feels he’s just about where he should be at this time.
“I think it’s unusual to make the leap Zac has made if you don’t understand what you have to do to get there—but Zac does,” Engle said. “He’s mature, a bright guy and he’s discipline, which is a great trifecta.
“Right now, Zac is our No. 1 runner. It was a great first (two) meets for him because as captain he has an opportunity to set the standard for the team in practice and meets,” Engle added. “He went out the first (two) meets and set the standard performance wise. It was a great way for him to start his tenure as captain of the team.”
Engle reflected back to last year’s co-Patriot League championship team (tied with Navy) and feels that Reiter brings the total package that guys like Anderson and last year’s team captain, Andrew Catalano, brought together, but not necessarily individually.
“What Zac brings to the table is that I haven’t seen any weaknesses in him,” Engle explained. “Catalano had a great yin and yang with Anderson last year. Jon was an amazing competitor who was able to run with anybody while Andrew was the leader who would take charge, and, at times, he would be in our Top 5 runners although he wasn’t our best runner, but Zac is both.”
Winning the team Patriot League title, albeit tied with Navy, was the greatest moment in Reiter’s Army cross country career because “all that hard work came together and everybody had a good race that day.”
To return to team championship status and earn high individual accolades, Reiter has worked out non-stop since the end of the spring track and field season. The 3K, 5K, 10K outdoor season runner runs anywhere from 75-to-100 miles a week while adding a lot of abdominal work and push ups to his training regimen.
“I’ve made huge strides this summer, and with the amazing workouts I’ve been doing with my teammates, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll beat Navy this year,” Reiter said.
Reiter said to set a good precedent for the rest of the season that he needed to break the Top 3 at Cornell, which he did. His breakout race a year ago was at Navy, just before the Patriot League championships, and ever since he has grown stronger both mentally and physically.
“I’m more physically strong this year and have continued a good base throughout the summer,” Reiter said. “Mentally, it’s just about getting to the starting line and telling myself to forget about (past failures), a bad week or a couple of bad races. It’s about getting out there and doing it.
“Everything goes out the window during a meet,” he continued. “I just focus on what’s going on that day, hour or second. I try not to think about an assignment that is due or anything else. I focus on the task at hand and do my best (on the CC course).”
Reiter is physically and mentally tough to overcome much of what West Point challenges him with because he was aware of most of those challenges before he arrived at the academy. His two older brothers, Andy (1998) and Aaron (2004), graduated from the academy, and
Aaron ran for the cross country and track teams.
“With my knowledge of West Point and the cross country and track teams, I knew what I was getting into,” Reiter said. “However, with the academics, prestige and receiving a degree from West Point, not to mention all the leadership and experiences you get from coming to a place like this, it sets you up for a great future.”
And, his future comes with much promise, both on and off the running course, because West Point has made him a more confident person.
“I’m definitely more confident, although I didn’t necessarily notice any change in myself right away,” Reiter said. “When I went home after the first and second years (here), people were saying, ‘you are a different person,’ but in a good way.
“I’ve got more direction in my life, and I know what I want and I go out and do it instead of sitting around twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen,” he added. “I’ve learned how to attack whatever I wanted, and I’ve gone out and got it.”