His coach called him a “one of a kind kid.” His teammates described him as an optimist, and a big brother-type figure.
But Zach Chapman shrugged, grinned, and tried to turn the attention away from himself and onto the team.
“You know, we had four guys finish in the top 30,” said Chapman, a Hickman cross country runner. “That’s just awesome.”
This humble attitude defines Chapman.
“He’s the guy with the conscience and common sense on the team,” sophomore Christian Hulen said. “He looks out for his friends. He looks out for us.”
After being in the shadow of other runners, notably current MU runner Tim Cornell, during his first three seasons, Chapman has emerged as the vocal leader on a young team.
“He kind of kept to himself last year,” said coach Steve Kissane. “Tim (Cornell) had a gregarious personality that people fed off of. Zach’s challenge this year was not to be Tim, but to find his own way to lead.”
Chapman has found his style. It is one that balances wit, humor, and encouragement. Each of his teammates have found something in Chapman they admire.
Teammate Josh Mantooth described Chapman as the training leader and the one “always watching out for his teammates.”
Fellow senior Chris Kokoska said that he appreciates the way that Zach can make every day a good day.
Junior Alex Edwards pointed to Chapman’s subtle sense of humor and confidence as characteristics that make him an effective leader.
“He always makes us laugh, even if we’re miserable,” Edwards said. “For instance, he likes to name the formations we run in. We’ll be running and he’ll say, ‘Hey, we’re running like an ‘A’.”
Chapman’s tendency to wander also amuses his teammates.
“We’ll see him one moment, and then he’ll be like 500 meters away,” Hulen said. “We’ll be like, how’d he get there?”
However, the habit created quite a stir at a campout the boys had earlier this year.
“Zach is a really big nature guy, and he just kind of wandered off,” Edwards said.
The boys didn’t know where he had gone, but started hearing some unusual noises coming from the woods.
“We were freaking out,” Edwards said. “But lo and behold, it was just Chapman returning from spending some one-on-one time with nature.”
Chapman said the key to being a good leader is to be a runner whom his teammates respect.
“I tell them what they need to hear, but I also listen,” Chapman said. “That’s just as important.”
Chapman began earning that respect in June, when the boys team traveled up to Michigan to attend Paavo running camp. The boys made a stop at Notre Dame along the way, and while they were in a hotel, Chapman pulled all his teammates into one room to have a team meeting. He made sure that each boy had individual season goals set, and that the boys set goals they would achieve as a team.
“He got us all on the same page,” Kokoska said.
Kissane said that he has noticed how much the boys respect Chapman’s work ethic, competitive toughness, and light-heartedness. Chapman, Kissane said, has brought the team together and pushed the boys to improve.
On Saturday, the boys came together to earn a fourth-place finish at the Class 4 sectional meet, earning them a spot in next Saturday’s state meet. It will be the third straight state appearance for the Hickman team. Chapman’s time of 15 minutes, 39 seconds was a 42-second improvement on his previous best time of the season as he finished ninth. It was a three-minute improvement on his fastest time from freshman year.
The Hickman girls’ team will not be joining the boys at the state meet after it finished in eighth place. However, two of its runners, Kendall Foss (19th) and Mari-Jean Vance (24th), qualified to run as individuals at state.
“We have two great representatives in Mari-Jean and Kendall to send next week,” Kissane said. “Kendall has always had talent. Mari-Jean has a phenomenal work ethic and has earned this.”