Even after training four consecutive individual Class 2A state champions, the championship hardware Pine Crest coach Paul Baur coveted most eluded him during that span.
Jacksonville Bolles had become Baur’s personal nemesis in those four seasons, taking home the girls’ state championship trophy as Pine Crest endured the agony as state runner-up.
On Saturday, however, Baur and the Panthers finally erased any notions of “can’t win the big one” by turning the tables on Bolles and capturing the school’s first state cross-country team title at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee.
“It feels really good,” Baur said. “I’m real excited for these girls. They ran awesome [Saturday]. They knew Bolles was a great team. They have beat us four straight teams at state.”
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The Panthers took out all the pent-up frustrations from the past four seasons by defeating Bolles 29-50 for the title. Freshman sensation Tsion Yared, the 2014 state champion, sparked the Panthers by finishing second in 17:59. Mahdere Yared, Maya Beleznay, Simone Vreeland and Emily Faulhaber followed in 7-8-15-19 order to help the Panthers erase any possibility of a too-close-to-call finish.
“We had a lot of butterflies,” Tsion Yared said. “You never come into state on paper being the favored team and get too confident. … It was frustrating when we couldn’t beat them every year. It made this moment [Saturday] feel that much better. That we had to work that much harder made it sweeter. It is crazy how long we have been racing Bolles.”
The St. Thomas Aquinas boys won their second consecutive Class 4A title, and the Westminster Academy boys proved to be the class of 1A, making it three state champions for Broward.
It was personal redemption for Yared, who bounced back to beat Gulliver Prep’s Natalia Varela and Melbourne Central Catholic’s Amanda Beach, two runners who had dominated Yared this season. Yared said she made the decisive move in the third mile.
“Finishing the race was the best feeling ever,” Yared said. “I had that moment of crossing that line. I stuck to stay in the front pack. Natalia and I just battled it out the third mile. After the hill it was just who wanted it more.”
In the Class 2A boys’ race, Calvary Christian’s Danny Ferro finished fifth in 15:45.
Aquinas won its second consecutive state boys’ title under Joe Hazera by showing the depth it has used to overwhelm opponents. Despite losing its No. 2 runner with a stomach condition during the race, Aquinas hardly skipped a beat. Nicholas Rischar finished third in 16:05 and Antonio Martinez, typically the Raiders’ No. 5 runner, took seventh overall in 16:15.
Hazera said the Raiders’ runners-by-committee approach the past two seasons has helped offset days when they are not at full strength.
“It has been spoken about us being preseason No. 1,” Hazera said. “Everybody has been looking to knock us off. We had to defend it. They want to be No. 1.
“It’s been like that all season. This group is less than 30 seconds from one through five. We don’t really have a front runner we have to run as a unit. We give up 15 seconds overall and a few spots, but the damage is minimized.”
In the boys’ 1A race, Highland Christian’s Ryan Szklany was Broward’s top overall finisher, taking third in 16:38, but it was Westminster Academy that used its depth to win the team title. Patrick Sastre, Saahr Edouard and Benjamin DeAngulo went 9-12-29 to help the Lions beat Mount Dora Christian 111-144.