Defying history, Dillard’s Brittany Gill crashed the cross-country state Finals on Saturday. The exciting first-year cross country running wonder capped an improbable season by winning the Class 3A state title in a career-best 18:06 at Apalachee Regional Parkway in Tallahassee.
“I’m real happy to put Dillard on the cross-country map and make them proud about winning states,” Gill said. “I know they never had a state champion. Hopefully I will inspire somebody else at the school to follow my footsteps.
Gill literally came out of nowhere to capture the most coveted prize in the sport.
The transformation started with her moving from Port St. Lucie to Fort Lauderdale with her father Davidson Gill, a three-time state track champion for Dillard.
Davidson Gill put his daughter on a training and eating regimen, and along with the tutelage of Dillard cross-country coach Darryl Burrows, resulted in Brittany accomplishing something first-year runners just don’t do.
“I knew I was going to have some great competition at states,” Brittany Gill said. “It came down to who had more guts in the end. I think I caught a lot of people by surprise this season. My dad always told me to try for the highest and even if you fall short, you will still be great.”
Gill’s tour-de-force finish highlighted a banner day for Broward, which also saw Pine Crest produce its fourth consecutive individual state champion and St. Thomas Aquinas reclaim its boys’ crown.
Pine Crest’s Alyssa Pujals turned in the most dramatic victory of the meet when Jacksonville Bolles’ front-runner Caitlin Collier fell down with 20 meters left and Pujals surged past her for the girls' 2A state title.
Pujals and Collier battled on the preceding steep incline appropriately nicknamed “the wall” before Pujals, a transfer from Gulliver Prep, emerged victorious to join two-time winner Julia Montgomery and Tsion Yared as Pine Crest state champions.
Pine Crest coach Paul Baur, who moved into select company having produced four consecutive individual state title wins, said the a minor tweak in Pujals’ running strategy was key to her winning states.
“We knew coming into this season Alyssa likes to go out and push the pace,” Baur said. She loves to run fast. We tried to work with her to understand you can go out hard but like today being as warm as it was, you want to make sure you don’t go insane.”
Collier mustered up just enough strength to craw to the finish line and edge Montgomery for second place.
Despite missing Yared, the 2014 state champion, and her sister Mahdere to injury, Pine Crest finished runner-up for the fourth consecutive season.
In the boys’ 2A race, Calvary Christian’s Danny Ferro established himself as a runner to watch next season by finishing sixth. Ferro’s teammate Joel Lacy, the 2014 state champion finished 20th.
Meanwhile, what the St. Thomas Aquinas boys’ team, were missing with a bonafide superstar runners, they made up with superior depth to give popular first–year coach Joe Hazera his first state title.
The Raiders’ lunch pail, hard-hat approach was led by Sean Breslin who finished ateam-best 17th in 16:26. Pierce Statham (22nd) Nicholas Rischar (30th) Ivan Donaher (32nd) and Darian Adriano (33rd) and Antonio Martinez (34th) followed.
“Losing last year was a big blow to us,” Breslin said. “It was an absolute disappointment leaving states. Nobody was happy with the way we did. This year we didn’t have that one guy but we hung off each other in practice and in meets. I know a lot of teams thought they could knock St. Thomas Aquinas off this year.”
Alexa Cruz, a past state champion for St. Thomas Aquinas, finished fourth (18:40) in the girls’ 4A race.
▪ Boys’ Class 4A — Team standings (champion, Broward finishers): 1. St. Thomas Aquinas 90; 17. Cypress Bay 373; 23. Coral Glades 550. Individuals (winner, top Broward finishers): 1. Adam Bradtmueller (Sarasota) 15:44; 17. Breslin (STA) 16:26; 22. P. Statham (STA)16:32; 30. Rischar (STA) 16:36; 32. Donaher (STA) 16:46; 33. Adriano (STA) 16:48; 34. A. Martinez (STA) 16:48.
▪ Girls’ Class 4A — Team standings: 1. Winter Park 48; 13. St. Thomas Aquinas 288; 19. Douglas 471; Cooper City 695. Individuals: 1. Baile Hertenstein (Riverview) 17:32; 4. Cruz (STA) 18:40; 29. Kloepfer (STA) 19:58; 41. McConnell (Mon) 20:18.
▪ Boys’ Class 3A — Team standings: 1. Creekside 90. Individuals: 1. Steven Cross (Merritt) 15:30.
▪ Girls’ Class 3A — Team standings: 1. Chiles 61. Individuals: 1. Brittany Gill (Dil) 18:06; 49. Spann (BA) 20:13.
▪ Boys’ Class 2A — Team standings: 1. Trinity Prep 40; 3. Pine Crest 106; 8. Calvary Christian 226. Individuals: 1. Charles Cook (TP) 15:53, 6. Ferro CalC) 16:16, 7. Kennedy (PC) 16:17; 15. Welch (PC)16:32; 20. Lacy (CalC)16:40; 22. Gilbert (PC)16:45; 29. Shine (McC) 17:02; 39. Cabral (PC) 17:16; 40. Stein (PC) 17:16;49. B. Williams (CM) 17:25.
▪ Girls’ Class 2A — Team standings: 1. Bolles 45; 2. Pine Crest 80; 7. North Broward 251; 14. Cardinal Gibbons 339. Individuals: 1. Alyssa Pujals (PC) 18:21; 3. Montgomery (PC) 18:35; 14. Vreeland (PC) 19:50; 20. Pinnell (NB) 20:06; 41. Bishop (NB) 20:51; 44. A. Schwartz (PC) 20:53.
▪ Boys’ Class 1A — Team standings: 1. Father Lopez 118; 5. Westminster Academy 177; 18. Highlands Christian 417. Individuals: 1. 1. Tucker Hindle (BRC) 15:56; 12. Szklany (HiC) 17:03; 14. Sastre (WA) 17:08;35. Ebenhack (HiC) 17:53; 37. DeAngulo (WA) 17:54.
▪ Girls’ Class 1A — Team standings: 1. Circle Christian 101; 11. Calvary Christian 257; 21. Westminster Academy 493. Individuals: 1. Hannah Brookover (CalC) 18:31.