Like any good cross country runner, Wharton High junior Nehemiah “Tre” Rivers is always chasing something.
For most of his life, it was older sister and former star Wharton runner Bryanna. Then, it was his first meet title, along with all the others that followed.
Now, he has his sights set on the Wharton school record for the 3.1-mile distance.
Nehemiah and his Wildcats teammates head into the Class 4A state meet Saturday in Tallahassee — for the first time since 2008 both the boys and girls will be competing — looking for a strong finish, and maybe make a little a history in the process.
Nehemiah is certainly primed and ready. At the Class 4A, District 6 meet at Al Lopez Park in Tampa on Oct. 25, he won his second straight individual district title in 16 minutes, 12 seconds. Just the week before, on the same course, at the Hillsborough County Championships meet, he had taken second in 16:10.40, a new personal best.
At the regional meet in Lakeland where the Wharton teams qualified for state, Rivers was fourth overall but his time was only 16:35. The Wharton boys school record is 15:55, set by Ryan Courtoy in 2006 at the Foot Locker South Regional, and Nehemiah has beating that mark as one of his current goals.
Can he get it? His coach think so.
At the county meet, Nehemiah paced off of Citrus Park Christian’s Trevor Foley, who has the second best cross country time in the state this season (15:20). At county, Foley ran a 16:05.60 and pulled Nehemiah along to that 16:10 personal best.
“Tre was going to keep it close with Foley,” Wharton boys track and cross country coach Kyle LoJacono says. “I feel like if Foley ran a 15:50, Tre would have ran a 15:55.”
LoJacono plans to enter Nehemiah in this year’s Footlocker South Regional on Nov. 25 in Charlotte, NC, and if the school record survives Regionals and States, it’s there that the record could very well fall.
LoJacono says he has Nehemiah on an overload cycle, a training method that stacks on miles over the course of about a month. Runners tend to be a little sluggish during overload period, but when they get off of it, it’s a lot like taking the weighted donut off a baseball bat.
Nehemiah was in Day 23 when he repeated as District champ on October 25. Both LoJacono and Rivers are hoping that the peak is right around the corner.
All In The Family
Rivers ran in the long shadow cast by his older sister Bryanna his first two years of high school cross country and track.
Now a collegiate runner at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Bryanna was one of the most accomplished Wharton runners ever. She set the school record in the 800 meters, and amassed 11 state medals in her four years at Wharton, the most for any track athlete, boy or girl, in the school’s 20-year history.
She’s only the second girl in Wharton track and field history to sign a full-ride college scholarship.
They say you run faster when you have someone to chase, and Tre grew up chasing Bryanna. She always had the edge, but he was getting close to his sister by 11 years old, until a problem with a growth plate in his foot de-railed the effort.
At 13, Nehemiah finally caught up to his big sister, beating her in an 800-meter race. He hasn’t looked back since.
“I see us as equals now,” Nehemiah says. “We both push ourselves to get stronger and rise up to the next challenge.”
Rivers is seizing the opportunity to shine.
“We knew coming in what he could be,” LoJacono says. “He missed time with the foot injury, but we knew it would only be a matter of time before he came along.”
Tre’s ascent has been strong and steady.
He actually won his first high school meet, the Central Hillsborough Invitational, in 2015, but failed to advance past the district meet.
However, his improvement from year to year has been staggering. He slashed three minutes off that first victory by the end of his freshman season, qualified for the state meet as a sophomore with a time 16:49, and then ran a personal best of 16:16 at States.
“When he came out to run his freshman year, it was a fight just to get through Districts, and he didn’t make it,” LoJacono says. “He remembered that the whole year, and it motivated him to have a great sophomore year. Now, he’s established himself as the top runner in the district.”