Belen Jesuit might be this weekend’s most likely championship favorite at this weekend’s state cross-country meet.
But its longtime rival, Columbus, is the squad that hopes to get its running dynasty back on course.
After winning three state titles in a row from 2008 to 2010, the Explorers have had a bounce back this year with a talented group of runners and is in contention for the Class 4A state title at Saturday’s meet at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee.
“We’ve known for years what it’s like to win state titles, but the past couple of years has kind of been our piece of humble pie,” senior Daniel Fernandez said. “Getting the team back to what we used to be has driven us harder every week. We want to bring back gold.”
Fernandez headlines a senior-led group of Explorers that hopes to achieve the success of the school’s past, when former star runner Armando Del Valle helped them to the “three-peat.”
Fernandez has consistently been one of the county’s best runners this season often competing at the Class 4A level with cross-town rivals Kurt Convey of Coral Reef and Nick Diaz of Sunset.
The three all have a solid chance of finishing near the top individually at the Class 4A race this weekend.
“I have tremendous respect for Kurt and Nick both, because they’re great runners and we all push each other to run at our best,” Fernandez said. “To be able to run against them is an honor.”
If Columbus is to challenge Orlando Colonial and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas and win its fifth state title, it will need another good race from its deep squad. Seniors Daniel Linares, Patrick Cabrera, Brian Palmer and Pedro Ortega as well as junior Marcos Garcia and sophomore Pedro Hernandez all finished in the top 30 at regionals.
“I think right now we’re running well in our 2-5 spots and the 6 and 7 guys are coming through too,” Fernandez said.
Belen Jesuit is the overwhelming favorite in 3A.
The Wolverines have not lost a race this season and have been dominant behind senior Avery Lopez, who has a chance at the individual crown.
Ferguson’s girls, a state runner-up last year, have a shot at the top three in Class 4A, but will have to overcome a couple of tough obstacles in Tampa Plant and St. Thomas Aquinas if it hopes to reach the podium.
Katrina Santiago has had a strong season and teammates Stephanie De La Guarda, Aylwyn Hernandez, Lauren Gavilic and Rachel Licea give the Falcons depth.
Ransom Everglades’ boys’ team won the Class 2A state title last season, and has a chance to at least finish in the top three to five this year. Jacksonville Bishop Kenny enters the race as the favorite.