About one-third of the way through the latest track season, Helena High sprinter extraordinaire Zander Mozer’s aspirations suffered a serious blow when he came down with a case of mononucleosis.
At the time, Mozer was ranked in the Top 2 in the state in all three sprints, and was also part of both HHS’ Top 5-rated relays. But since mono sometimes takes a couple months to recover from, the general consensus was that the slender Bengal would be unable to regain his full respiratory capacities and strength back in time to excel at the Class AA Track and Field Meet.
Well, um … wrong.
Just five and a half weeks after contracting mono, Mozer turned in a State Meet performance that ranks among greatest efforts in the annals of HHS track.
He captured two championships -- setting two school records and an all-class record -- a runner-up placing, and a pair of relay medals. He was also the meet’s top scorer, while achieving multiple “firsts” in the 113-year history of the Bengal program.
And now, Zander “Zee” Mozer is the IR Super Team Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year, as well.
“Zander is a great competitor with discipline, a great work ethic, and he cares,” HHS coach Tony Arntson said. “He’s got a ton of raw talent and a radiant personality.”
His first three seasons, Mozer battled recurring injuries. But he closed out last year on a high note at the State Meet in Missoula, helping the red-and-white’s winning 1,600-meter relay to a school record 3:19.96. He also garnered a fifth-place medal in the open 400, in 50.17 seconds.
Prior to getting sick this spring, Mozer was ranked No. 1 in the AA’s 400 with a 49.65 clocking, and No. 3 in the 200 at 22.69, after a first- and second-place showing, respectively, at the Swede Dahlberg Invitational.
He was then diagnosed with mono, and cut back to just one race at the Skor-DeKam, placing runner-up in the 200 in 22.51.
After skipping the Pilcher Western Top-10 in Missoula, Mozer ran his first 100 of the season the next weekend in Great Falls. Chasing top-ranked Damian Nelson -- the eventual two-time State champ -- he sped to an 11.0. That ranked as the state's second-best time in AA, behind Nelson’s 10.71.
Next, Mozer swept all three sprints at the Crosstown Meet, in addition to anchoring HHS’ winning 1,600 relay. He missed a shot at a fifth victory, when the 400 relay was DQed.
At the Western Divisional Meet in Kalispell, Mozer was nipped at the line twice by Glacier's Drew Turner, for a couple of runner-up finishes -- in the 100 (11.10) by two hundredths of a second, and the 200 (22.18) in a photo finish.
He posted four second-place finishes in the meet, also taking runner-up in the 400 relay (with Keair Adgerson, Ryan Arntson and Derrick Olsen), and the 1,600 relay (with Ray Trudeau, Iain Anderson and Kaleb Winterburn).
Mozer said afterward that the long relay is his favorite race, because “I like running with the boys.”
Next came the State Meet in Butte, and a date with destiny.
In the prelims of the 100 on Friday, with his trademark dreadlocks flying behind a bright white headband, Mozer sprinted to a 10.96 clocking and new PR. He became just the third Bengal in program history to crack the 11-second barrier, joining Nate Boyd and Tyler Peterson.
In the 400 finals, Billings West’s Simon Petsch sprinted out ahead for the first 150 meters. Mozer sat back in second until the final 200, before turning on the afterburners and won going away.
The HHS trackster crossed the line in 47.52 seconds, lowering his PR by a jaw-dropping 1.25 seconds, despite dealing with a false start that he originally thought was his own.
When the official time hit the board, he let out a roar and was immediately met by his teammates. Mozer’s time shaded former Bengal Connor Matthews’ 2016 all-class record of 47.75 seconds.
“I knew the start would be important, but I didn’t really think it was going to be the most important part,” he articulated. “I knew that the second corner was definitely the place I needed to excel in.”
On Saturday, with Glacier’s Turner out of the meet with a pulled hamstring, Mozer garnered his second title, winning the 200 in a school-record time of 21.74. The old marks belonged to Nate Boyd’s 2000 FAT time of 21.88, and Keith Heimbach’s 1972 hand-timed, wind-aided 21.8.
Mozer then took runner-up in the 100, edged by CMR’s Nelson, and also ran on a the fourth-place 400 relay and the fifth-place 1,600 relay. Mozer ripped off a 47.25-second split as the 1,600-meter relay's anchor.
The Bengals led the meet by three points heading into the final event, but settled for third with 80 points, just three points behind champion West’s 83 and one point out of second.
Mozer tallied a meet-high 29 ½ points, which ranks third on school’s list for points at State, after Boyd (39 ½, 1999) and Darin Zinnecker (32 ½, 1991).
He is also just the seventh Bengal with five or more medals in one State Meet, joining Earle Parsons (1940) and Nate Boyd (1999) with six each; and Parsons (1939), Steve Wilkins (1978), Zinnecker (1991), Mike Ferriter (2004) and Justin Maes (2008) at five apiece.
And since boys track was instituted at Helena High in 1904, Mozer is the first Bengal to ever place in all three sprints, plus both relays, in the same State Track Meet.