After being supplanted by Dana Thomas as Westminster Christian’s No. 1 runner this season, Victoria Hoppe returned to a familiar spotlight at the Region 4-1A championships on Saturday.
Hoppe, who has embraced Thomas, pulled away for good at the two-mile mark to claim her first region title in 19:58 at the Westminster Academy sports complex.
It marked Hoppe’s first victory over Thomas, who was slowed by the flu and finished second in 20:21.
“This definitely was a bit of a surprise,” Hoppe said. “I’ve wanted this since my eighth-grade year. Dana has been running great all season. She was sick today. We were working off each other the entire time. I have been running second all year but I have absolutely nothing against that. I had an incredible season. I got PR’s I didn’t think I could run because Dana has been pushing me all season.”
With Hoppe, Thomas, seventh grade sensation Hailey Mira and Natasha Strump going 1-2-3-6, the Eagles, ranked No. 7 in the FACA Class 1A poll, cruised to its second consecutive region title with 29 points.
Westminster coach Jose Garcia said outside the development of Mira and Strump, it has been Hoppe’s team-first approach which will have the Warriors in a battle with Community School, Shorecrest Prep and Orlando First Academy for a top five finish at the FHSAA Class 1A State Finals at on Nov.9.
Following a rare leap from school cheerleader to the Warriors’ No.1 runner, Thomas has commanded most of the attention this season by winning District 16-1A, finishing second at the Disney Classic, fourth at the Junior Orange Bowl Invitational and first at the Spanish River Invitational.
Garcia credits Hoppe’s willingness to accept a secondary role has been crucial in the Warriors maintaining team harmony and staying focused.
“The way Victoria came in and started working is amazing,” Garcia said. “She was our number one last year. The way she accepted that and came back to No. 2 and worked with Dana has been the most impressive thing. It’s not easy to go from No. 1 to all of a sudden No. 2. It hurts. She has taken it in stride and elevated her game.
The top 15 finishers and top six teams advance to the State Finals.
The Warriors were thinking a team sweep when Westminster Academy’s No. 3 runner, John Luke, pulled up with a hamstring injury but had to settle for second place with 100 points. But despite the setback the Lions won the boys team title with 100 points and the Warriors placed second behind a 10-12-13 finish behind Hunter Ager (18:03), Shane Riera (18:08) and Parker Brannon (18:09).
Doctors Charter’s Josiah McLaughlin had a Dad-best fifth place finish in 17:35 and Dade Christian’s Iverson Williams finished eleventh in 18:05.
Without a home cross country course, the South Florida HEAT girls’ team was relegated to practice at three Broward parks to accommodate runners strewn throughout the county.
Throw in five of its top seven runners are in their first year and a formidable home school academic schedule that didn’t allow the entire team to practice together, and it’s easy to see why the HEAT took an unconventional route to a school-best second place finish at the Region 4-1A championships on Saturday.
“The girls are very ecstatic,’’ said HEAT coach Bob Bemis. “Last week they won their first district championship. I’m tickled for them. They’re going on blind ignorance and believing in themselves and believing in what I tell them. Everyone showed up on day one with no summer work and no mileage and half of them thinking what is cross country and here we are three months later.”
First-year runner Carolyn Shields finished a team-best 21:01 to lead a 5-7-10-15 finish for the HEAT with Jenna Evans, Erin Shields and eighth grader Abigail Serda at the Westminster Academy Sports Complex.
Following the race Carolyn Shields was all smiles as she posed for pictures with her grandfather, Thomas Haas, who has been her good luck charm this season.
Haas resides in Orlando but has made the 3-hour plus trek to support his granddaughter as he did on his birthday Oct. 12, when Carolyn won the Westminster Academy Invitational. It was Carolyn’s first Invitational title.
Carolyn Shields said there will be nothing that will keep Haas from accompanying the HEAT to the FHSAA Class 1A State Finals at Apalachee Regional Park on Nov. 9 when the HEAT, ranked No. 14 in the FACA poll, will vie for a top 10 finish.
“There is no chance my grandfather doesn’t go to states,’’ Carolyn Shields said. “He won’t stay home. He encourages me and wants me to do well. He is great. He doesn’t just love me for my sports. He just loves me for who I am.”
Westminster Christian’s Victoria Hoppe provided the biggest surprise by beating her teammate, Dana Thomas, the Warriors’ No. 1 runner for the individual title. Hoppe, who has embraced Thomas as Westminster’s new No. 1 runner, won her first region title in 19:58 and led a 1-2-3-6 finish with Thomas, seventh grade sensation Hailey Mira and Natasha Strump. That combination proved formidable as the Warriors won its second consecutive region title with 29 points.
Despite losing its No. 3 runner, John Luke to injury, Westminster Academy still cruised to the boys’ team title. Casey McCracken (17:10), Brandon Bejarano (17:18) and freshman Patrick Sastre (17:58) went 2-3-6 for the Lions and eighth grade Josh Deangulo helped pick up the slack for Luke by running fifth and placing 49th in 20:20.
Lions coach Ken Key, who expects Luke to be ready for the State Finals, acknowledged the Lions were motivated by flrunners.com predictions that Miami Country Day would emerge victorious.
“It looked pretty good through a mile and a half and then one of our seniors, John Luke went down and as we watched the race unfold we wondered if we had enough to do it,’’ Key said. “But our No. 5 Chase Allworth stepped up and ran a real nice race as our No. 4 today and our middle schooler Deangulo stepped up and ran as our No. 5. We still had a margin of victory of 28 points. It was a team deal.”
Fabian Tomas ran a time of 16:01 to secure the individual title and Ryan Rodriguez ran a time of 16:05 to finish second. The Wolverines scored 21 points and had a team average of 16:24. Pembroke Pines Charter finished second and Archbishop McCarthy finished third to qualify for next week’s state meet in Tallahassee.
On the girls’ side, Miami Central finished second as a team to champion Merritt Island. Doral Academy (5th) and Archbishop McCarthy (6th) also qualified for state.
Homestead’s Destiny Johnson finished a Dade-best second in the individual competition with a time of 19:46.40.
Boys’ team scores: 1. Belen 21; 2. Pembroke Pines Charter 86; 3. Archbishop McCarthy 118.
Boys’ individual results: 1. Fabian Tomas (BEL) 16:01.40; 2. Ryan Rodriguez (BEL) 16:05.40; 3. Steven Cross (Merritt Island) 16:05.70; 4. Garrett Camps (Melbourne) 16:29.60; 5. Alex Isaac (BEL) 16:36.20; 6. Michael Magoulas (BEL) 16:36.40; 7. Joshua Collins (BEL) 16:43.30; Others: 9. Carlos Penaranda (PPC) 16:55.90; 11. Jaime Lopez (BEL) 17:03.00; 12. Bruno Zayas (BEL) 17:04.40; 13. Andrew Iglesias (PPC) 17:06.20; 15. Daniel Penaranda (PPC) 17:08.90.
Girls’ team scores: 1. Merritt Island 42; 2. Miami Central 83; 3. South Fork 114; 4. Suncoast 125; 5. Doral 129; 6. Archbishop McCarthy 150.
Girls’ individual results: 1. Bethany Hardcastle (South Fork) 19:33.10; 2. Destiny Johnson (HOM) 19:46.40; 3. Lianna Farnesi (DOR) 19:53.00; Others: 6. Megan Moussa (TERRA) 20:29.70; 8. Meylin Muniz (DOR) 20:34.20; 9. Dauthline Dieujuste (CEN) 20:45.80; 10. Jovanna Sarduy (AM) 20:55.70; 11. Roselere Desir (CEN) 21:05.60; 14. Leysha Caraballo (PPC) 21:14.20.