All-Empire boys track athlete of the year Justin Zinnerman

Rancho Cotate senior Justin Zinnerman, the 2014-15 All-Empire boys track athlete of the year. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

Rancho Cotate senior Justin Zinnerman, the 2014-15 All-Empire boys track athlete of the year. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)


After a stellar junior season that ended at a state championship, Rancho Cotate high jumper Justin Zinnerman had plenty of momentum pushing him forward in his senior season.

Momentum and higher expectations.

“I went to state my junior year, so there was a lot of pressure to make it my senior year,” the Rancho grad said. “Lot of pressure from a lot of people.”

After battling ankle injuries early in his season, Zinnerman found his groove and excelled, finding his way back to the CIF Track & Field Championships and earning The Press Democrat’s Male Track and Field Athlete of the Year award.

Despite a highly successful season and his third trip to the state meet, Zinnerman admitted that while he put up good numbers, he felt he hasn’t yet reached his potential.

“The beginning of the season was all recovery,” Zinnerman explained, “and I felt I made decent progress, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. Not my best but better than I expected to do.”

His personal best was 6 feet, 9 inches, which he hit his junior season, and despite a North Coast Section title under his belt, he was wary about his return to the coveted state meet.

“Even at MOC I was nervous about making state,” Zinnerman said.

The four-event athlete didn’t have time to worry about nerves, however, as he was focused on the high jump, 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 4×100 relay.

It was the high jump in which Zinnerman would advance to the state meet, and he said the pressure was higher than ever.

“There were so many other high jumpers and a lot of competition,” he said. “The mental block was the hardest part.”
In such a highly competitive atmosphere, the state meet took a toll on Zinnerman, he said.

He credited his good friend and training partner, Maria Carrillo grad Alex Netherda, with continuing to motivate him throughout the season, especially during struggles with ankle injuries.

“He was always pushing me to move on,” he said. “He would tell me to worry about the competition, not something that happened in the past.”

Their friendship is motivating, both athletes said, and despite the competition and the pressure from so many angles, the support has been unmatched.

“Despite what he sees as maybe a disappointing ending to his season, he’s been one of the most dedicated athletes and he’s reached his goals,” Netherda said. “Even with a number of setbacks, he was able to look his adversities in the face and battle them. It’s incredible.”

As he moves forward with his goal of competing in college, Zinnerman remembers times with his relay team at Rancho as the highlights of his senior season.

“It was emotional for sure,” he recalls of the team’s final race of the season together at the Meet of Champions. “It was the last time we would run together and we just got along so well.”

The Rancho Cotate administration had a surprise for Zinnerman at graduation rehearsals, when they handed him his diploma on the Thursday afternoon before he headed to Clovis for the state competition on Friday.

“That was such an honor,” he admitted. “It was so great to see those people supporting me.”

The Rancho grad has his sights set on competing for the University of Southern California track team, and said as long as he sticks to the script given to him by USC coaches, his two years at Santa Rosa Junior College will be a breeze.

“A lot of his success in the high jump has been from raw talent and has been relatively self-taught,” his friend Netherda said. “He’s going to get specific coaching in his event and he’s just going to take off.”