It’s a question that had to be asked, but little did Trisha Ippolito know how much it would anger T.J. Hornberger.
Good thing the competition’s the one who will likely pay the price now that Lake Shore’s star distance runner is angry.
About a month ago, an injured Hornberger had the talk with Ippolito. The conversation had to come up since the senior was dealing with IT Band Syndrome, a wear-and-tear condition that afflicts distance runners. He had already missed six weeks of the season, and the Eagles’ distance-running coach needed to know if he was going to run this spring or, with a Division I scholarship to Syracuse already in hand, if he was just going to try to heal as much as possible before trading his green and white uniform for the colors of the Orange.
“I asked him once if we were done,” said Ippolito, noting that she really ticked him off. “He left and raced an 800 down the road afterward and called me all excited saying, ‘oh my God it felt better.’
“He’s not a quitter and he would never want to quit and me even saying that to him made him mad enough that he went out and did it. That was his epiphany.”
He had another one last Saturday at the Carl J. Roesch Memorial at Clarence, a tune-up meet for this weekend’s two-day ECIC Championships, which start Friday at Jamestown High School.
He can still kick it into another gear his competitors simply do not have as he beat teammate Calvin Butlak for the Roesch title in the 1,600 (he won by more than 7 seconds) and then pulled away from a game Kyle Ruffner of Lancaster to take the 800 by more than 2 seconds.
“I didn’t really not want to have a senior year,” said Hornberger, who holds the Section VI record in the 3,200 meters and also owns the school records in the 800 and 1,600. “My theory now is if I can get better now, it’ll make me stronger for Syracuse at the end instead of just sitting out and waiting to see if my injury got better by summer. I want to have a good season and I wanted to get an early start on getting better for Syracuse.”
Hornberger owns the top time in Western New York in the 800 (1:56.29) and ranks second in the 1,600 to Sweet Home’s Mitchell Daddario (4:18.02 to 4:19.01), the two events he’ll likely focus on for state qualification because he doesn’t have enough time to play catch-up in the 3,200 with the Section VI meet just 10 days away in Olean.
Hornberger definitely impacted the Lake Shore program during his career, according to his coaches.
One of the runners he’s practiced with over the years, Butlak, has become one of the area’s top distance talents. The junior has been attracting Division I interest from Pittsburgh and the Boston schools, according to Ippolito. Butlak earned Most Outstanding Athlete of the Meet honors at the Roesch.
Meanwhile, fellow Eagle Ty Becker is Western New York’s top-ranked athlete in the pentathlon.
Hornberger won his first state title last fall in cross country. He’s come close during outdoors, setting a Section VI record of 9:03.20 during a fourth-place finish at the state meet in the 3,200 last spring.
He finished sixth (1,000) and seventh (1,600) during the indoor state meet last winter.
“It felt amazing. At first I couldn’t believe it,” Hornberger said of his state title. “I was walking around just like it was another race. On the way home, I thought, ‘Oh my God I just won a state title. This is a really big deal.’ It finally hit me. I was just so happy.”
It’s something he wants to experience again, which is why he took off down the road and pushed himself to the limit after his chat with Ippolito.
“I always wanted a state title in track,” said Hornberger. “I’m going to work as hard as I can and if I don’t get it I still had a great senior year and the last five years of track.”