Pine Crest’s Julia Montgomery and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Alexa Cruz led a state championship medal haul for Broward at the FHSAA cross-country state finals at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee on Saturday.
After Cruz won her first Class 4A state individual title and helped the Raiders’ girls defend their state team title, the Raiders’ boys made history by winning their first team title.
Meanwhile, in a replay of last season, Montgomery bounced back from a regional loss to her top rival, Daesha Rogers, to claim her second consecutive Class 2A state title in a season-best 18 minutes 22 seconds.
Aquinas’ state title team sweep was sweet vindication for the Raiders, who overcame potentially debilitating injuries to celebrate together at the top of the state finals podium.
Cruz, a 2012 state runner-up, sparked the Raiders’ back-to-back state championships bid by pulling away early from the field and capping a wire-to-wire finish in a personal-best 18:02.
Behind Cruz, Brianna Rischar (18:43), Christina Kalis (19:15) and Megan Schloss (19:31), the Raiders went 1-5-13-28 and made a mockery of preseason predictions by trouncing favorite Winter Park by 63 points.
“Alexa was on a mission,’’ Raiders coach Trish Butler said. “It was exciting to see her go out there and win her first state championship. She had the fastest race of the day. We got off to a rough start and didn’t come together until the districts. Everybody was talking about Winter Park.”
A red-hot Manuel Velasquez, who took off at midseason, finished fourth in a personal-best 15:33 and led a 4-21-25 finish with Bryce Statham (16:18) and Antony Cruz (16:24).
Already without Alex Haugen (15:57), who was lost to a stress fracture two weeks ago at district championships, the Raiders’ boys got an emotional lift from Matthew Butler, who ran with a torn tendon in his ankle.
“It was finally the boys’ time,’’ Butler said. “Their sight was set high after placing third last year. They worked real hard in the summer. We had a rough ride. It’s never easy.”
Montgomery was hardly considered a lock to repeat as state champion after being ranked No. 2 to Jacksonville Bolles’ Mackenzie Wilson the entire regular season and then losing the Region 4-2A title by 22 seconds to Rogers, a Miami Jackson freshman.
On Saturday, however, Montgomery rediscovered her championship form at the most opportune time.
Unlike the Region 4-2A championships when Montgomery watched Rogers open a 70-meter lead, Montgomery stayed within striking distance of Rogers and then took the lead for good at the 1.5-mile mark.
From that point, Montgomery opened a 40-meter lead which was enough to stave off Rogers for her second state title. Rogers finished second in 18:29.
“The thing I focused on most was being mentally strong,’’ Montgomery said. “Knowing that I had a state title to defend and that I could do it. That was running through my head. Winning states last year was the climax of the season, and it is where I want to do my best.”
While Montgomery celebrated her second state title and the Pine Crest girls’ team set several milestones, the Panthers didn’t have enough firepower to derail perennial state power Jacksonville Bolles from winning another state title.
Montgomery, Tsion Yared (18:43), Katherine Jovanovic and Katarina Stevanovich went 1-6-13-18 to help the Panthers finish with 55 points.
Bolles, meanwhile, scored 42 points to move into an all-time tie for second place with eight state championships.
“Bolles knew we were coming,” Pine Crest coach Paul Baur said. “They were ready for us. They ran a great race. They are 10-deep. We closed the gap on them big time but they were the best team today. We hope the third time will be the charm for us next season.
The boys’ 2A race provided one of the biggest surprises, with North Broward Prep’s Jack Klumpp stealing the spotlight from Calvary Christian’s Joel Lacy, Broward’s top 2A runner coming into the state finals, with a fourth-place finish in a personal-best 15:57. Lacy finished eighth in 16:13.
Pine Crest, stocked with talented underclassmen, sent a message it will challenge for the 2A title next season by finishing sixth.
Cypress Bay’s Katherine MacNeal provided a touching moment when she dedicated her final high school race to her mother Jill, who survived breast cancer, and then shocked the field with a second-place finish in a personal-best 18:28.
“I couldn’t be any more excited about my race,’’ MacNeal said. “I liked breaking the rankings. That was definitely motivation to run faster. I ran over to both my parents after the race and gave them a hug. I think my mom was crying. My parents were just so proud. ... I will never forget it.”
In the 1A boys’ race, Westminster Academy’s Brandon Bejarano (16:44) and Casey McCracken (16:59) finished 13th and 22nd, respectively, to help the Lions finish seventh.