TALLAHASSEE -- Columbus senior Daniel Fernandez just kept talking. And he wouldn’t stop.
Rather, he didn’t want to stop.
Saturday morning’s Class 4A state cross-country race at Apalachee Regional Park didn’t turn out the way Fernandez or the rest of the Explorers envisioned, but with every word that rattled out of his mouth post-cooldown, one thing was clear: Fernandez loves his team and racing.
“Whenever you can strap on your spikes with these seven guys — and we’re nine-strong — you have a shot to win,” Fernandez said. “You know you’ll get everything out of them. I love them so much for that. Despite us coming up short, I know they gave everything we could have asked for. We came up short, but that’s the beauty of the sport. You learn from it, improve from it.”
Although his team finished sixth, Hernandez finished third and set a personal-best time of 15:43 in the process. Andres Arroyo of Colonial took the win in 15:18.
Miami Sunset earned a fourth-place team finish, guided by Nick Diaz’s fifth-place tally, and Ferguson was led to a fifth-place finish on the 4A girls’ side by junior Katrina Santiago (eighth, 18:49) and Aylwyn Hernandez (14th, 19:11).
“Very pleased,” Santiago said. “I heard Aylwyn behind me cheering me on. It got down the last 300 [meters], and it was basically who wanted it more. I just took off; she was right behind me.”
And although the Columbus’ boys, who were projected to perhaps inch out a second-place finish, stumbled in terms of overall finish, none of that mattered. Or kept mattering, as Hernandez continued to gush, each word effectively prolonging his career by one more second.
“I’ve been so happy to grow up with these guys for four years,” he said. “I tried to be a mentor to these young guys, and I know they’ll be a great team next year. I hate to leave them. I’d run 3.1 miles 10 times more for these guys, I love them so much. I’m just so proud.”