Jay Hebert of Ticonderoga races to victory in the 110-meter hurdles at the New York State Federation Meet.
Jay Hebert has established himself as one of the most successful Section VII track and field athlete ever, but the Ticonderoga High School sophomore is just beginning his career.
“He could very well be running in the Olympics in four years,” Walter Thorne, Ticonderoga track coach, said of Hebert. “He has that kind of ability. He hasn’t reached his potential yet.”
Olympics? That may sound a bit far-fetched for a Ticonderoga athlete, but consider what Hebert has accomplished this season as just a sophomore.
Hebert won the New York State Public High School Athletic Association small-school championship June 9 in the 110-meter hurdles. He then won the New York Federation championship, which pits the top eight runners from schools of all sizes.
Hebert went undefeated this season with a best time of 14.07 seconds — the fastest time in New York and the fourth fastest high school time in the nation. The Olympic B qualifying standard is 13.72 seconds. Only a sophomore, he’s only 1.2 seconds away from the world record in the 110 hurdles held by Cuba’s Dayron Robles.
“When you run 13 seconds you’re knocking on the door (of the Olympics),” Thorne said. “He’s got a chance to reach 13 this weekend.”
The Sentinel champion is more reserved than his coach. Olympics?
“That’s too far away to think about,” Hebert said. “I just want to work hard, improve and run in college.”
Hebert is running in the high school national championship track meet this weekend in Greensboro, N.C. That meet features two divisions — emerging elite and championship. Being a sophomore Hebert is slated to be in the emerging elite race, but Thorne thinks his thinclad may be moved up to the championship event.
“I’d like to see him in the merging elite, but he has the fourth fastest time in the country so they may put him the championship race,” Thorne said. “That race will be all seniors, the best of the best. I’d like to see him ease into national competition.”
Hebert has no expectations for the national meet.
“I just want to go experience the entire thing,” the Ti student said. “Next year and the year after I hope I can really compete at nationals. I still have a lot of learn.”
Hebert dominated the New York State championship meet. He won his preliminary heat in 14.35 seconds, the fastest time of all qualifiers. He then won the small-school title in 14.33, the best time of the entire meet, before winning the Federation crown in 14.41. The Federation race was run in wet conditions.
“I got off to a decent start,” Hebert said of win in the Federation race. “At about the fifth or sixth hurdle I couldn’t see anyone in my peripheral vision. That’s when I really tried to pick it up.”
Hebert said he was confident going into the state and Federation meets.
“After the Eddy Meet when I posted the 14.07 everyone made a big deal about it,” he said. “I started to think maybe I could win at states.”
His coach agrees. The Eddy Meet was a turning point.
“The key (to the state championship) is that he’d done it before,” Thorne said. “Jay ran at the Eddy Meet earlier this season and beat most of the same people who were at states. He had done it before. All he had to do at states was run his race.”
The Eddy Meet, held each year at Union College in Schenectady, is one of the most competitive high school meets in the Northeast.
Even with his earlier success, Hebert was nervous heading into the state meet.
“I don’t usually get nervous before a race, but I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” he said. “I was the top seed so I knew everyone was gunning for me. Coach always tells me to not worry about the other runners, to just run my race. That’s what I did.”
Hebert went undefeated in an event that is often decided by hundredths, even thousandths, of a second. Even the slightest mistake can be costly to a hurdler.
“Coach Thorne has really helped me,” Hebert said. “We practice a lot, going through the same motion over and over. You have to be absolutely comfortable with your form.”
Thorne said Hebert has a rare combination of speed, proper technique and endurance.
“He’s a special kid,” Thorne said. “He’s going to get stronger, more mature. We’ll work on a few technical flaws he can correct. We’ll get him into the weight room on the off season. By the time he’s a senior no one will be able to touch him.”
Hebert is the fourth Ti athlete to win a state title — all in track and cross country. Jeremy Hall won the boys discus about 20 years ago. Andrea Staepel won the girls 800-meter run in 1998. Lee Berube won the state cross country championship in 2007.
Ticonderoga has never had a team win a state championship.
Shawn Silliman of Ticonderoga also reached the state championship meet. He placed 13th in the 400-meter hurdles in 1 minute, 1.63 seconds.