BOYS CROSS COUNTRY ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Vincent Groner, Vallivue

CALDWELL — Vallivue boys cross country runner Vincent Groner tried other sports along the way.

Basketball, football, tennis and even wrestling to name a few. But the more the senior participated in other sports, the more he realized he should stick to running.

The decision to stick to running proved to be wise. Particularly this season where Groner enjoyed seven top ten finishes, including a third place showing at the 4A State Championships in October.

For his accomplishments, Groner is the 2016-2017 Idaho Press-Tribune Sports Stars Boys Cross Country Athlete of the Year.

“Vincent is an outstanding runner,” junior Mark Castaneda said. “He puts in a lot of time, and throughout the season, Vincent carried the weight of the team.

“He was a great role model to the younger boys on the team and everyone looks up to him. Vincent had a great season and I’m sure he met his and the coaches expectations.”

While most runners usually have to cut their teeth for a year or two on junior varsity, Groner stepped right in and made an immediate impact on varsity. He posted two top ten finishes his freshman year and doubled that number the following season with four as a sophomore.

But it was his final two years, starting junior season when two-thirds of the team graduated, he really began to turn the corner.

As a junior, Groner dropped his average time by 1/20th of a second and set a then personal best time of 16:25 at the Gary Ward Invitational. He also capped the season by earning his first ever state medal, placing 18th to make the podium.

“When they left, I knew I had to step up,” Groner said. “I wanted to be to others what my former teammates had been to me, inspirational, a friend and a leader they could all look up to and count on day in and day out.”

However, nothing compared to his final season, which was filled with many firsts.

He won his first ever race at the Bugtown 4A/5A Canyon County Championships. He placed in the top five at districts for the first time, logging a second place finish to lead the Falcons to a third place team overall finish, qualifying them for state. But the crème de la crème was that third place outing at state, the first time Groner had recorded a top five finish there.

“During the race, I was keeping tabs in my head, I kept thinking ‘okay I’m in eighth place now and oh now I’m in seventh place,’” Groner said. “Once I broke away from that fifth, sixth, seventh place group, it was like ‘holy cow I can do this.’

“400-meters from the finish, it was really muddy and I almost fell, but I was still holding third place. So I kept going and going until finally I crossed the finish line. When I did, I was just filled with all kinds of excitement.”

Groner will attend the University of Idaho in the fall and be a part of the honors program, pursuing a degree in professional chemistry. He also plans on competing at the division I level. Groner will be walking on to both the Vandals' cross country and track and field teams. 

“He will definitely compete at the next level,” Vallivue head cross country coach Robert Thomas said. “If he reaches the goals he’s talking about reaching, he’ll have a lot of people looking at him.

“That’s what his desire is right now, and I have no doubt he’s going to get there.”

Something not possible had he not realized running was the sport for him.

“I’m really not good at anything else,” Groner joked. “I may not be able to throw or catch a ball really well, but I sure can run.”

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