In order to be a successful long-distance runner during the track season, most athletes use the cross country season in the fall to keep themselves primed for a strong spring.
Grand Haven junior Jack Nicholson took that strategy to the next level this past year as he hit full throttle during the cross country campaign, and with that momentum, went soaring into the track season with undeniable confidence.
Nicholson finished the 2016 cross country season with a 15 minute, 45 second 5k time, which is now the second fastest time in Grand Haven history. For his accomplishments, Nicholson was awarded first-team All-State honors and was named the Area’s Cross Country Runner of the Year.
During his career, he has also been named to the All-Regional Team (2014-16), the O-K Red All-Conference team (2014-16), was the 2015 regional champion, the 2016 and 2014 regional runner-up, and the O-K Red Conference runner-up in 2014-15.
In the spring, Nicholson continued to lap the opposition, as he earned numerous new personal bests in all of his events, helping anchor the Bucs boys distance squad.
Nicholson set new PRs in the 3,200-meter run (9:21.98), which set a new school record, and in the 1,600 run (4:28.3) and the 800 run (2:03.52). Nicholson captured the Division 1 regional championship in the 3,200 run on May 19 at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix High School with a time of 9:28.26.
Despite his record-breaking time at the Division 1 state meet, Nicholson just missed out on All-State honors with a 13th-place finish. However, he was named to the O-K Red All-Conference team.
Grand Haven boys cross country/distance coach John Tarr
On what makes Jack such a special athlete
“The thing that makes Jack special to me is that running isn’t his life. He has a variety of interests that make him a special person. That makes it fun, as well as challenging to coach him, because he’s a unique individual. To my chagrin, I often see him doing jumps and tricks at the skate park, but I know that is what gets him away from the intensity of running and allows him to relax.
“When it comes down to it, though, he makes the commitment and becomes the consummate runner. He is analytical about his races. He watches video of races, looks at the stats of other runners, and now, instead of me creating his race strategy, he makes suggestions and goes over them with me and our assistant coach Will Hewitt. Immediately after his races, he wants to go over his splits and talk about how he can get better. He’s always looking forward to the next race to make improvements, and he’s never simply satisfied, even when he runs great.”
On cross country and track goals
“For cross country, our goal for him was to be in the top 30 to earn All-State honors, and he accomplished that finishing 13th, which was higher than even I thought he would be at the beginning of the season. He ran a great race at the state finals in Brooklyn. He put himself in the second lead group and kept the leaders in sight then kicked at the end and passed about five runners.
“In track, our goal for him was to be a conference champion, a regional champion and qualify for the state meet. His first two track seasons were a little frustrating. He had some injuries at the beginning of his freshman track season, and before his sophomore season, he just didn’t put in enough miles. But this past winter, the University of Michigan cross country and distance coach contacted him, and I think it kind of inspired him.
“He wasn’t too sure about running in college until Kevin Sullivan contacted him. He did a lot more work over this past winter and ran some indoor races, and he’s talking about running in college now. After that, another goal was to establish some better track times this season, and he accomplished that. He was the regional champion in the 3,200 run and finished 13th at the state meet, coming very close to finishing in the top eight. He ended up breaking the school record at the regional, meet, then breaking his own school record at the state meet, running a 9:21.98 and taking almost seven seconds off his regional time.”
On training changes last offseason
“Jack is a stronger, smarter and more experienced runner, so we increased his mileage and the intensity of his workout target times. I made sure in track that he ran a lot of fast races and a variety of races. In every meet this past track season, he ran an 800, 1,600, and a 3,200 event. We really hammered the early meets with a lot of hard training races and in the end, it paid off.
“At the same time, he became more mentally tough and more focused. He started pacing himself better throughout a meet, so he could run a variety of races at a variety of paces. With this training, he became more confident that he could run a sub two-minute 800 and a 9:30 in the 3,200 during the same meet. He has become a very versatile distance runner, and this is what college coaches look for in high school runners.”
On first impression of Jack
“The difference between Jack and most freshman boys is that Jack worked hard all summer going into his freshman season of cross, and he got to know the guys really well and became a part of the team very quickly. After that first cross country season, he began to believe in our system and my coaching, and he really began to buy into the program. But, I wasn’t sure he was going to stay with us. He was an avid soccer player and kept playing travel soccer during that freshman year. But I was patient with him and the other boys on the team embraced him, and eventually, he bought in completely.”
Favorite coaching moment with Jack
“His regional race in the 3,200-meter run was special. It was a cruddy, cold day in the rain at Loy Norrix, but it was probably the closest I’ve ever seen to a perfect high school race by him. Every coach in that stadium that day complimented us on how patient and smart he ran in that race. His splits were consistent 1:11-13, and he kept in touch with the leaders, he kept looking for me during the race and listened to me then kicked the final lap in a 1:02 passing all three of the leaders at the 200 meter mark and never looked back.
“I felt like we accomplished that race together that day. He won the regional championship and set a new school record in the 3,200. That race was an example of how far he has come as a runner and how much he has matured and learned how to control a race, so that he gives himself a chance to win.”
On career ceiling
“He’s immensely talented, smart and coachable, and he hasn’t reached his peak yet. He still has a ton of fuel left in his tank, so he will have a great senior year. In college, he’ll get in the weight room, make running more important, and he’ll be great in college.
“However, he’s a very good student academically, which is why Michigan is interested in him. He was at the U-M running camp last week and made an impression there. Academically, he would do very well there and that’s his strength. Wherever he goes, his education will be most important to him, his field of study is what will drive him, and running will help take him there. He could be a great college runner, but whatever he chooses to do, his career ceiling will be unlimited.”
Tribune Top Male Athletes Countdown
Honorable Mention: Joey Zelenka, Cam Ball, Levi Sixx
No. 5: Grant Ruster
No. 4: Drake Morley
No. 3: Isaiah Pierce
No. 2: Jack Nicholson
No. 1: Aug. 4