By Rich Fisher
This is just a hunch, but if Xander Sommers lived on a lake, he would probably hate to fish, swim or go boating. If he lived in Swiss chalet, he’d have no interest in skiing.
The reasoning behind this hypothesis is that Sommers is obviously not swayed by an environment that would be a dream come true for many people.
The Bordentown High senior literally grew up across the street from Augusta National in Georgia, where the Masters Golf Tournament is held every April. Sommers went to a few practice rounds and actually enjoyed watching the world’s best.
Ask him if he ever wanted to golf, however, and the answer is quick.
“No, sir,” Sommers said. “I never really had the patience for it. I enjoyed mini-golf, but I couldn’t go on a regular course.”
Never even felt the urge?
Alrighty then, moving on.
Actually, the golf apathy is good news for the Scotties’ track and field team. Instead of spending his springs on the links, Sommers decided to become a runner/jumper/hurdler when he moved to Bordentown as a sophomore. He is a jack-of-all-trades, having done eight different events all within the same season.
In order to help strengthen the Scotties wherever it’s needed in dual meets, Sommers has done all three jumps, both hurdle events and the 100, 200 and 400 meters.
“He’s one of those kids who’s so athletic he can probably do anything,” Bordentown coach Joe Minch said. “Earlier this year we started trying him at pole vault. He gave us a look like ‘Really coach? All right. Yes, sir.’ He only practiced it a little but, just in case we had to use him, he’d probably have been our best pole-vaulter. He’d do the 3200 if I asked him. He’d probably think I was crazy, but he would say ‘Yes, sir.’”
The son of a service man, Sommers uses the word “sir” frequently out of respect. He is extremely easy to talk with, and one of the most polite, affable teenagers one could hope to meet.
Growing up in Georgia, Sommers played football and soccer, as the latter sport is played in the spring in southern high schools. He recalls that when the family went to Florida on spring break, they would rent their house out to people who were attending the Masters for the full week.
When his dad got transferred to Fort Dix, he had a choice to make about sports at BRHS and decided on football.
“I had to think about it,” he said. “I thought it’s harder to go to college for soccer, the recruiting process for that was probably a lot harder. And I always loved playing an actual physical sport and decided to stick with football.”
He become a welcome addition at defensive back and receiver, and was talented enough to be recruited by East Stroudsburg University to play DB next year. If his transition to Bordentown is any indication, he will have no trouble making friends in college.
“It wasn’t too tough for me coming here,” he said. “I’m very social, so I made friends with a couple of people from the jump. I liked it up here; it’s just a very friendly vibe, especially this nice little town. Everybody kind of knows everybody. I liked it lot.”
At the urging of his dad to try new things and get in better shape for football, Sommers went out for track for the first time as a sophomore.
“I was mess,” he said. “I always thought I was fast until I actually saw the true competition of track. I was like ‘Wow!’ It’s a hard process. It helped me a lot with my form and I want to say it made me a smidge bit faster, but truly this year my speed has actually really improved. There’s a lot behind track and it’s not just an all-out run. I’m kind of mad I found out about it a little too late.”
As a sophomore, Sommers was more of a jumper and he won a division title by long jumping a career best 20-½ feet. He remembered being in awe of all the great talent around him, but said he put it all together for that one jump.
Sommers never surpassed that, however, as ankle injuries thwarted him in long jump. But he continued to do numerous other events wherever needed in order to help the team.
Because he was never sure where he might be used, Sommers had to put in more than the ordinary amount of practice time.
“I’d practice some things one day and other events the next day,” he said. “Then I just started taking more time to myself and staying after practice and working on whatever I didn’t work on during practice. And on every weekend I would go and try to add in a little bit of each event by myself or with a couple of friends. It got frustrating from time to time when you weren’t hitting a certain time or mark, but you know the work will pay if you keep it consistent and keep going at it hard.”
During his junior year, Sommers took a part-time job at Taco Bell, which hindered his practice and training sessions.
“I’m still kind of mad at myself for that,” he said. “That slowed my progress. They would schedule me during weekdays when practice was crucial. I would work Saturdays (after meets) from 4 to 12:30. It was crazy.”
This year, with burritos and quesadillas a thing of the past, Sommers has been able to focus more intently on his craft. In a dual meet with Holy Cross, he won the 100 in 11.2 and the 200 in 22.9, which were both personal records. And while he has been disappointed in his high jump this year, he won every dual meet and had a PR of 6-2.
Sommers was disappointed in his showing at the May 20 Burlington Open, however. He placed fifth in the 100 preliminaries, but a bad start cost him in the finals and he finished seventh, one spot from a medal. It was his best place of the day.
“The high hurdles was just very good competition,” he said. “My 200 wasn’t my best and I got 11th overall, and the high jump was immediately after the 200 so they were not my best jumps, sadly.”
Nonetheless, Minch planned on using him in four events at the Central Jersey Group II sectionals May 26-27, since the meet is spread over two different days. The goal for Xander was to reach the Groups meet for the first time.
Whether he advanced or not, it’s still not the end of track for Sommers. He will run winter track at East Stroudsburg, as the coaches plan on using him in the 200.
“They know with a lot of endurance work I can shave down a lot,” he said. “And then they want to try me in the high hurdles because they just graduated their best senior.”
Whatever event Sommers does, Minch is certain of one thing—East Stroudsburg is getting a quality competitor and an even better person.
“He’s just a natural athlete and you kind of just push him in a direction and he picks up on it quickly,” the coach said. “He has that attitude ‘Yes, sir, no, sir, whatever you want me to try, sir.’ The respect he has, it just gets to you, He’s going to listen to you. It’s very refreshing.”
It has its limits, however. For instance, just don’t put a golf club in his hand.