Lake Norman Publications

Blue Devils lean on standout Mercer

Mooresville’s Zachary Mercer was a conference and regional champion, helping the Blue Devils reach the state meet.Andrew Stark

Mooresville’s Zachary Mercer was a conference and regional champion, helping the Blue Devils reach the state meet.Andrew Stark

MOORESVILLE – Coming into the season, Mooresville senior cross country standout Zachary Mercer said his goal was very simple – he wanted to do all he could to get Mooresville back to the state meet as a team.

The Blue Devils have not qualified as a team for the Class 4A state meet since at least the 2009 season, but with Mercer leading the way, they were able to break the drought.

“The main goal from the beginning was to qualify for states as a team,” he said. “It had been a long time since we’ve done it, but thankfully we did. I think my biggest driving force this season was to push myself as hard as I could and never let the team down.”

Mercer not only didn’t let his team down, he helped carry them further than they’ve been in years.

Mercer opened the year with an eight second win at the Northwest Cabarrus Carnival meet and never slowed down.

“I was surprised seeing how well I performed. I think I finally became my own runner this season,” Mercer said. “The mindset I had was to always push myself, stay with the front pack and see where it leads me.”

That mindset led Mercer to one of the finest seasons of any Mooresville High runner in recent memory and to the 2016 Mooresville Weekly Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year award.

After the opening meet win, Mercer put up a number of good runs. He placed second at the Adidas XC Challenge, clocking 16:14, and placed fifth at the Greensboro Invitational with a time of 16:21. At the Wendy’s Invitational, Mercer finished in 16:07 to place 11th, but was just starting to get into his groove.

At the final regular season tune-up, Mercer won the Oct. 11 Lake Norman home meet with a time of 16:36, setting up what would be a spectacular finish where he would lead the Blue Devils to their ultimate goal.

“I took the leadership seriously. The guys know they can talk to me or if they’re hurting. They know they can always talk to me about anything,” he said. “We talked a lot about really wanting to win the conference and regional meets and setting ourselves up for states. We wanted to be champs wherever we could whether it be county, conference or whatever. We wanted it and we went for it.”

The Blue Devils won the conference meet, edging rival North Lincoln by two points and Mercer was again at the forefront.

He won his second consecutive meet at the conference meet, edging Lake Norman’s Evan Harris by two seconds with a time of 16:15, setting up for a showdown at the regional meet.

“Going into regionals I saw I was ranked No. 1 but I also knew that wasn’t set in stone, so I tried to be aware of everything,” said Mercer, who is getting recruiting interest from Appalachian State and Pembroke.

At the regional meet at McAlpine Park, Mercer said he ran with the lead pack for most of the meet before breaking away in the final 800 meters. Once he turned it on, he outdistanced the field and ran a personal best 16:02 to take the regional title and help the Blue Devils finish third and qualify for the state meet.

“I was surprisingly happy to be the regional champ. I was really happy for that,” Mercer said. “I was most proud to get my team to states. I knew going in that if I won it, our team would have a great chance to get to states and that had always been the top goal.”

Mercer said going into the state meet he was focused on breaking 16 minutes, but it was not to be. In the first 300 meters of the race he was tripped, resulting in the large mob at the starting line trampling him and leaving him with cuts, scrapes and out of contention for the individual title.

With several precious seconds lost, Mercer was in catch-up mode the rest of the race.

Still, he ran 16:30 and placed 31st in the state. Although it could have been better without the mishap at the starting line, Mercer’s happy for his season.

“It was a lot more successful that I thought it would be,” he said. “I’m happy I could do that for my team and help them out. I hope I was able to help set some standards for Mooresville that they can keep when I’m gone.”

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