Gulliver Prep freshman Natalie Varela started high school in August with an already accomplished cross-country résumé.
The reigning Miami Herald Cross-country Runner of the Year, Varela is poised to start collecting championships this season if she can follow last season’s fourth-place finish at the Class 2A state meet.
Varela accomplished quite a bit as an eighth-grader last season, including posting the fastest time of any Miami-Dade County runner at the state championships (18:40.41).
Varela was the AAU 13-14-year-old cross-country national champion, and followed that with a stellar track and field season in which she had state runner-up finishes in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
Varela enters this season eager to challenge perennial powerhouse Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest’s runners in Class 2A, which are led by another freshman Tsion Yared.
Miami-Dade County has not had an individual girls’ state cross-country champion since Lourdes’ Jenny Gomez in 2000.
Varela has improved greatly since middle school under the tutelage of local veteran coaches.
Varela, 14, earned numerous titles in jiu jitsu and judo during her childhood, which helped her build the athleticism and endurance for cross-country and track and field once she took those up as her main sports.
Varela began running for Miami Elite Track Club, coached by Danny Aguas, in middle school, and eventually also trained with former University of Miami coach Mike Ward, now Gulliver’s track and field coach, and former Miami Killian standout runner Jesus Batista.
The Raiders’ squad, which is trying to develop depth behind Varela to make itself a team contender again, is coached by veteran coach Tomas Esquijarosa.
Varela will try to begin adding to her growing trophy collection Friday when she runs in the Friday’s King of the Hill Invitational at Tropical Park — a meet she finished second in last season.
“[Varela] should be one of the top state finishers once again,” Esquijarosa said. “The team is very inexperienced, but they will work hard to advance to the state meet.”
While Varela will undoubtedly be one of Dade’s state favorites, she is not alone.
Freshman Rahyah Andressohn transferred from Mater Academy to Southridge in the offseason and already started 2016 strong by winning the individual title at last week’s Youth Fair Invitational.
Lourdes and Ferguson figure to battle for team supremacy again in Class 4A.
The Falcons took the first major championship last weekend winning the Youth Fair title led by senior Jazmyn Martinez. But Lourdes has a solid squad led by senior Sabrina Quijano that will be formidable.
On the boys’ side, Deshay Fernandes opened the season strong for Columbus by winning the Youth Fair title. The Explorers should be the strongest team from Dade in 4A with Ferguson and Braddock among the top teams giving chase.
Belen Jesuit, a third-place finisher last year in Class 3A, figures to remain among the state’s best overall as it showed winning the Youth Fair boys’ team title last week.
The Wolverines, led by junior Joshua Collins, are looking to end their longest state title drought in a decade after winning seven championships in eight seasons from 2006-2013.
Sept. 9: King of the Hill Invitational at Tropical Park
Sept. 17: Spanish River Invitational
Sept. 23: Junior Orange Bowl Invitational
Sept. 29: Falcon Invitational
Sept. 30-Oct. 1: FLRunners.com Invitational
Oct. 7: 305 Classic
Oct. 14: GMAC championship
Oct. 17-22: Districts
Oct. 27-29: Regionals
Nov. 5: State meet at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee
2015 BOYS’ STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 4A: St. Thomas Aquinas; 3A: St. Johns Creekside; 2A: Winter Park Trinity Prep; 1A: Daytona Beach Father Lopez.
2015 GIRLS’ STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 4A: Winter Park; 3A: Tallahassee Chiles; 2A: Jacksonville Bolles; 1A: Orlando Circle Christian.
TOP RETURNING BOYS’ RUNNERS
Joshua Collins, Belen Jesuit, Jr.; Alec Cuevas, Columbus, Sr.; Hunter Dobbs, Coral Reef, Jr.; Deshay Fernandes, Columbus, Jr.; Chris Garcia, Belen Jesuit, Jr.; Guillermo Rojas, Ferguson, Jr.; J.P. San Martin, Belen Jesuit, Sr.; Henry Souza, Belen Jesuit, Jr.; Eliseo Torres, Braddock, Jr.
Others to watch: Nick Cummings, MAST, Sr.; Sebastian Duenas, Belen Jesuit, Jr.; Sebastian Lazo, Ferguson, Jr.; Demauri Little, Coral Reef, So.; Guillermo Wenrich, Ransom Everglades, Sr.
TOP RETURNING GIRLS’ RUNNERS
Rahyah Andressohn, Southridge, Fr.; Maria Fernandez, Doral, Jr.; Mariana Gonzalez, La Salle, Jr.; Jazmyn Martinez, Fegruson, Sr.; Jinah Mickens-Malik, Mater Academy, 8th; Sabrina Quijano, Lourdes, Sr.; Daesha Rogers, North Miami, Sr.; Beatriz Ruan, Ransom Everglades, Sr.; Natasha Strump, Westminster Christian, Sr.; Natalie Varela, Gulliver, Fr.
Others to watch: Kaylee Alfaro, Ferguson, Sr.; Gabriela Crespi, Ferguson, Sr.; Calyope Ortega, Lourdes, Sr.; Jeannie Estevez, Lourdes, Jr.; Claire Irigoyen, Ransom Everglades, So.; Megan Moussa, Terra, Sr.; Jordan Shapiro, Palmetto, Fr.; Kyra Wells, Westminster Christian, Fr.
TOP BOYS’ TEAMS
1. Belen Jesuit; 2. Columbus; 3. Ferguson; 4. Coral Reef; 5. Braddock.
TOP GIRLS’ TEAMS
1. Lourdes; 2. Ferguson; 3. Westminster Christian; 4. Ransom Everglades; 5. Mater Academy.
For complete season outlooks, go to www.miamiherald.com/high-schools
BOYS’ SEASON OUTLOOKS
FERGUSON (Coach Jose Estevez, 1st year). Last year: Fifth at state. Top runners: Guillermo Rojas, Jr.; Javier Arreaga, Sr.; Justin Melo, Sr.; Nicholas Pujals, Jr.; Brian Escobar, Sr.; Sebastian Lazo, Jr.
BRADDOCK (Coach Alex Shaw, 2nd year at BR, 11th overall). Last year: Third in district. Top runners: Eli Torres, Jr.; Anthony Perez, Sr.; Joey Stallings, So.; Frankie Perez, Jr.; Kevin Navarro, Sr.; Ryan Navarro, Sr.
CORAL PARK (Coach Mark Formosa, 10th year). Last year: 3-0. Top runners: Lucas Bastista, So.; Anibal Guerrero, So.; Michael Veloso, Sr.; Ihosvany Vera, Sr.; Mario Espinoza, Sr.; Roberto Orozco, Jr.
BELEN JESUIT (Coach Frankie Ruiz, 15th year at BEL, 17th overall). Last year: Fourth at state. Top runners: Joshua Collins, Jr.; Chris Garcia, Jr.; J.P. San Martin, Sr.; Henry Souza, So.; Sebastian Roa, Jr.; Lucas de la Hoz, So.
TERRA (Coach Bill Healy, 3rd year). Last year: 10-7. Top runners: Brannon Brisbane, Jr.; Nick Greco, Jr.; Abel Guedes, Jr.; Brandon Montoya, So.; Alberto Quinteros, Sr.; Patrick O’Shea, Jr.
MOURNING (Coach Ed Bonilla). Last year: 10-10. Top runners: Jaheal Yderert, Sr.; Jose Marquez, Sr.; Cory Gomez, Sr.
MIAMI SPRINGS (Coach William Drew, 19th year). Last year: 8-8. Top runners: Max Michelson, Fr.; Kevin Frias, Sr.; Ceasar Frias, Sr.
GULLIVER (Coach Tomas Esquijarosa, 6th year at GP, 16th overall, 70-35). Last year: 0-5. Top runners: Michael Garcia, Sr.; Ryan Pino, Sr.; Franco Caputo, Sr.; Michael Gomez, Sr.; Jorge Arturo Flores y Sainz de Aja, Jr.; Charlie Harris, Sr.
MIAMI COUNTRY DAY (Coach Chris Hayes, 22nd overall, 276-143). Last year: 28-2 (District champions). Top runners: Alex Cohen, Sr.; Ryan Finvarb, Jr.; Ryan Mendelson, 8th; Ben Horn, Jr.; Evan Mendelson, So.; Danny Strouse, Jr.
PALMER TRINITY (Coach Johann Odermatt, 3rd year at PT, 12th overall). Last year: 10th at state. Top runners: Duncan Stoner, Jr.; Nico Rey, So.; Henry Fernandez, Sr.; Sebastian Lopez, So.; Reilly May, So.; Nico Balarezo, Sr.
RIVIERA PREP (Coach Lauren Redondo, 4th year). Last year: Third in district. Top runners: Xavier Pugh, Jr.; Michael Charley, So.; Noah Sperber, Jr.; Stefano Marconi, Jr.; Ishaan Tembi, Fr.; Ellis Greenstein, Jr.
WESTMINSTER CHRISTIAN (Coach Jose Garcia, 8th year, 29-7). Last year: N/A. Top runners: Fletcher Matthews, So.; Christian Goodwin, Fr.; Joe Rodriguez, Fr.; Nick Pastrana, So.
GIRLS’ SEASON OUTLOOKS
LOURDES (Coach Rebecca Michalak, 11th year). Last year: Fifth at state. Top runners: Sabrina Quijano, Sr.; Calyope Ortega, Sr.; Jeannie Estevez, Jr.; Elizabeth McCann, So.; Isabelle Areces, So.; Nicole Lopez, Sr.
FERGUSON (Coach Adriana Del Rosario, 1st year). Last year: Regional champions. Top runners: Jazmyn Martinez, Sr.; Kaylee Alfaro, Sr.; Gabriela Crespi, Sr.; Taylor Tejera, Jr.; Nicolle Garcia, Sr.; Kayla Hogan, Jr.
BRADDOCK (Coach Carlos Cano, 13th year). Last year: Third in district. Top runners: Emily Suarez, Fr.; Lauren Locke, Jr.; Amanda Rios, Sr.; Briana Vidal, Jr.
CORAL PARK (Coach Leonel Pozo, 1st year). Last year: 3-0. Top runners: Terry Alvarez, Jr.; Estrellita Torres, Sr.; Priscilla Talavera, Sr.; Sandra Dominguez, Jr.; Josdelinne Perez, So.; Victoria Condis, Sr.
TERRA (Coach Kim Kelly, 2nd year). Last year: 12-5. Top runners: Megan Moussa, Sr.; Delilah Ayan, So.; Nicole Cinquino, Jr.; Raquel Morales, So.
MIAMI SPRINGS (Coach Ana Drew, 5th year). Last year: 2-10. Top runners: Elizabeth Vizcaino, Fr.; Jazmine Jagessar, So.
MOURNING (Coach Jeff Morris). Last year: 10-10. Top runners: Dejanee Parms, Sr.; Allison Wax, So.; Alisson Decampo, Sr.
RANSOM EVERGLADES (Coach Doc Crabtree, 32nd year, 35th overall, 194-9). Last year: Third at state. Top runners: Beatriz Ruan, Sr.; Hannah Tacher, Jr.; Claire Irigoyen, So.; Abby Siegel, So.; Grace Waibel, So.; Anne Gutierrez, Sr.
CARROLLTON (Coach Kevin Davis, 2nd year). Last year: Third at districts. Top runners: Carolina Rodriguez, Jr.; Marissa Montadas, Fr.; Carolina Prado, Sr.; Belen Labarta, Fr.; Caroline Carlson, Fr.; Adriana Diaz, Fr.
GULLIVER (Coach Tomas Esquijarosa, 4th year at GP, 16th overall, 60-45). Last year: 0-5. Top runners: Natalie Varela, Fr.; Maria Victori Cardoso, Jr.; Anette Alonso, Sr.; Rose Sacannell, So.; Lily Harris, So.
EDISON (Coach Leanna Diggs, 1st year). Top runners: Chakeria Cooper, So.; Alexus Marrow, Jr.; Ashley Loubeau, Sr.; Cassandra Reyes, Sr.; Rickia Dickson, Jr.; Ranecia Gage, Sr.
WESTMINSTER CHRISTIAN (Coach Jose Garcia, 8th year, 33-8). Last year: 8-0 (Third at state). Top runners: Natasha Strump, Sr.; Kyra Wells, Fr.; Hailey Mira, So.; Megan Brais, Fr.; Malena Pochat, So.
MIAMI COUNTRY DAY (Coach Chris Hayes, 22nd year, 296-107-1). Last year: 26-3 (District champions). Top runners: Kitty Simmonds, 8th; Klara Meyer, Fr.; Taisa Strouse, Fr.; Mia Simmonds, Jr.; Briana Espinosa, Fr.; Anastasija Moskvina, Fr.; Isabella Allen, So.
PALMER TRINITY (Coach Tammy King, 3rd year at PT, 18th overall). Last year: Third at districts. Top runners: Julia Irvin, So.; Madison Haggard, Fr.; Taylor Murphy, Jr.; Gaby Cepeda, Sr.; Sena Irvin, 8th; Patricia Amo, Fr.
RIVIERA PREP (Coach Lauren Redondo, 4th year). Last year: Third in district. Top runners: Zoe Jonasz, Sr.; Sabrina Del Valle, Jr.; Emi Teh, Jr.; Zoe Teh, Fr.