Being absent from the top of the cross-country state finals podium is unfamiliar territory for Miami Lourdes and Belen Jesuit, but the two Miami-Dade County powerhouses are on their way back.
Belen coach Frankie Ruiz, who has led his program to seven state titles in 15 seasons, believes finishing third at the state finals at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee on Saturday with no upperclassmen in his top seven is a sign the Wolverines will be back.
“I am not content with third but it’s a good way for the program to reenergize itself,” Ruiz said. “It is a humbling experience to be at the top and drop a couple notches. This is a climb to the top again. We haven’t had this absence of seniors in a few years. I think we are paying the price for lack of veterans on the team. It challenges me as a coach to keep innovating and learning.”
The good news for Ruiz is Joshua Collins, who finished fourth, and Sebastian Roa (22nd) are expected to return and should lead the charge for the Wolverines next season.
Lourdes coach Rebecca Michalak said coaching legend Ary Montalvo made the 15-hour trip from Pennsylvania to watch the team he led to five state titles before handing the reigns to Michalak. Montalvo gave Lourdes, which finished fourth in the Class 4A girls’ race, a pep talk.
“Coach Montalvo spoke to the girls,” Michalak said. “It was really nice. They were in awe of him. They heard about him, but to talk to him made it that much more real. They know the jersey they wear has value to it. They want to live up to it.”
Gulliver Prep freshman Natalia Varela finished fourth in the Class 2A race in 18:07. Varela came into the finals undefeated this season but ultimately had no answer for Bolles’ Caitliln Collier, who won in 17:44, and Pine Crest’s Tsion Yared, who separated from Varela in a third-mile battle.
Still, Gulliver Prep coach Jesus Batista sees the making of a state champion in his freshman.
“Natalia had a 40-second improvement at the state finals from last season.” Batista said. “You can’t ask for anything better. She is a special talent. We aimed for first but the hills got to us. Next year we will train more hills and be prepared for the state course.”
Mater Academy left its mark in the girls’ 3A race, with freshman Valarie Lastra finishing second in 18:02 and Jinah Mickens finishing ninth in 18:40.