Tropf's unfinished business Outside interest: Atholton's two-time state indoor mile champion wants to achieve a similar status in outdoor track.

April 11, 1996|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Zach Tropf is a two-time state indoor mile champion. But he especially remembers that first title in 1995.

The day before that state meet he was driving to school on icy roads and his 1995 Saturn slid off the road and flipped over twice.

"It was real icy and I was probably driving too fast. It was the first bad weather I'd driven in. I'd only had my license six months," he said. He hit his head on the window, and escaped with cuts and bruises. The car didn't fare as well. It was totaled.

Teammates didn't expect him to participate in the state championships the following day. Instead, the Atholton senior surprised everyone by scoring an upset in the mile -- his first major racing win.

He had finished only fourth at the county indoor mile championships and second at regions.

"That was my most memorable moment, because I wasn't expected to do well and it helped my team win the state championship," Tropf said.

Tropf will earn his 10th varsity letter this spring, consummating a significant career of cross country and track competition that still has a major unaccomplished goal.

Although he has finished second five times, he has never won an individual outdoor event at the county, region or state levels.

The mile is one race he'd like to win, and he'd like to break the 13-year-old Atholton school record of 4: 24. He finished a half-second off that record last season. He already holds school records for the outdoor two-mile (9: 43), indoor two-mile (10: 05) and indoor mile (4: 30).

Atholton coach Pat Saunderson expects Tropf to crush that school outdoor mile record.

"He'll go under 4: 20, and we're hoping for 4: 18," Saunderson said. "Opposing coaches are scared of what he'll do outdoor. He's earned his spot with Faisal Hasan [Wilde Lake], Mike French [Centennial] and Steve Petro [Oakland Mills] as dominant distance runners in the state."

Tropf's improvement as a runner came about because he stepped up his training in his junior year by competing indoors for the first time, after spending two years playing junior varsity basketball.

"Running indoor was a major turning point for me," he said. "And lifting weights has helped build my arm strength."

Tropf, 6-foot-1, 165 pounds, came to the realization last fall that track, not cross country, was his forte. Instead of earning a hoped-for county cross country championship, he finished fourth, 52 seconds behind the winner, Steve Petro.

"He never achieved what he hoped for in cross country," Saunderson said. "He excels at faster events."

It is track he expects to run in college. Miami has offered the five-time first-team all-county athlete a partial scholarship. He's still considering North Carolina, Rice, Wake Forest and Duke as possibilities, however.

Academics are his greatest accomplishment. Tropf was seventh in his class when the school year began. He had a 3.9 GPA and scored 1440 on the SAT.

He took two Advanced Placement courses as a junior and four this year, including physics, calculus, Spanish and psychology. He's not sure what he'll study in college. His father is a physicist at the Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

"I do well in science and math, so I'm leaning toward physics or engineering, but psychology is my most interesting course right now. I've also looked into business and journalism."

He's writing for the school paper this year for the first time.

Tropf has other significant non-sports accomplishments: He was one of 300 semifinalists in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, based on a research project that he worked on during a mentoring program at the Applied Physics Lab his junior year.

He became an Eagle Scout when he was 14.

He was a member of Atholton's It's Academic team that competed on television this year but lost in a close match to Pikesville.

"Zach is one of the best all-time runners Atholton has had, but he doesn't flaunt his accomplishments," Saunderson said. "He's not arrogant. And the other kids respect him. It impresses me that he'll listen to a ninth-grader as though they are as good as he is.

"He's a serious competitor but also has a quirky sense of humor. He's in charge of practical jokes on the team, and is always coming up with one-liners. He's just a neat, down-to-earth kid VTC who will be difficult to replace."

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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