Alexa Cruz is such a heavy favorite to win her second consecutive BCAA cross-country title on Friday, that it feels more like a coronation than a race for the St. Thomas Aquinas sophomore.
Barring some unforeseen event, it should be a runaway victory at Markham Park for Cruz, the 2012 Class 4A state runner-up, who ranks No. 4 in the state (18 minutes 6 seconds).
As for who wins the boys’ individual title, things couldn’t be any less predictable.
With a stacked field, led by Pines Charter’s Andrew Iglesias (15:46) and St. Thomas Aquinas’ Manny Velasquez (15:42) that features five runners under 16 minutes, it’s conceivable Aquinas’ Matthew Butler (16:23), the surprise 2012 champion, might have a hard time cracking the top five, much less defending his crown.
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“It’s definitely going to be an interesting race on Friday,” Iglesias said. “There is going to be a lot of talent there. Whoever is the most confident as far as getting away from the pack and staying in front of the race will probably win it.”
Although most expect Iglesias, the 2011 county champion, and Velasquez to sprint to the finish, St. Thomas Aquinas’ Alex Haugen (15:57), Bryce Statham (16:05), Butler, Iglesias’ teammate Carlos Penaranda (15:56) and Coral Glades’ Anthony Deleva (15:53) all have the mettle to win.
It had been a relatively quiet season for Deleva, the 2012 Broward boys’ Runner of the Year up until he posted a season-best time of 15:53 to finish 32nd at the Pre-State Invitational.
Coral Glades coach Pedro Gonzalez believes the confidence Deleva gained from that outing could propel Deleva to the front of the pack Friday.
“It will be any man’s race,” Gonzalez said. “Whoever takes the pain the most and who has the best kick will come out on top.
“Anthony is eager to face those top guys again. It would mean a lot for him to win, a great opportunity to show what he is capable of.”
If things play out as planned, however, Iglesias and Velasquez will take center stage again in their fourth highly anticipated head-to-head showdown this season.
It has been comeback season for both as Velasquez has avoided the season-ending injury that has hampered his career, and Iglesias appears to be rounding into the form which made him the Broward boys’ Runner of the year in 2011.
Velasquez holds a 2-1 edge in those matchups, highlighted by the personal-best 15:42 he ran to finish second at the Mountain Dew Invitational.
Iglesias ran 16:30 to finish 22nd at the Mountain Dew Invitational but bounced back to run a season-best 15:46 to finish 23rd at the FSU Pre-State meet.
Velasquez fell out of contention at Pre-State after falling down and finished 33rd in 15:53.
Iglesias is still dealing with the disappointment of becoming the forgotten runner after missing last postseason with an injury and his long-held belief that the Jaguars have been overshadowed by Aquinas (No. 1 in the FACA/flrunners.com Class 4A poll and six-time defending BCAA champion), and it wouldn’t surprise if that perceived slight provides Iglesias the extra incentive needed to win his second county title.
“I feel like it is going to be a little different with St. Thomas this time,” Iglesias said. “The way our training works, we try to peak toward the end of the season. I feel like our times have only been coming down. It’s my senior year, last county meet. I am just going to try and leave it all out there. County is for bragging rights.”
Aquinas coach Trish Butler said Cruz will be looking to redeem herself after a subpar showing at Pre-State and that the expected battle for second place between Cypress Bay’s Katherine MacNeal and Brianna Rischar (18:55) in the girls’ race will hold its own share of high drama.