2000 Big Bend Cross Country Preview

By David Yon

Note: This preview attempts to be exhaustive, but it is difficult to collect and verify information on high school cross country. I would greatly appreciate any corrections, updates or additions. You can e-mail me at davidyon@worldnet.att.net.  Times listed in () represent the fastest time I was able to verify for that athlete.

Running across a fresh cut grass field and onto a muddy trail that snakes its way through a deep canopy forest, I feel and sense the subtle changes that signal cross country season is nearly here. There is a little more blue in the sky (soon we will see those deep blue skies of fall), it is almost cool running without a shirt and the sun sleeps in a little bit later each morning. The promise of coolness, of course, is just a mirage this time of year in North Florida, but that won’t stop the faces and feet of hundreds of high school athletes from testing their courage in the mud, over the hills and through the sand as they spill their guts trying to help their teams stand out. Unlike the running most GWTC members do, cross country is first and foremost a team event. Seven members toe the line for each full team, and five score. Most matches are decided not by the runner who wins, but by the team member who reaches down for that extra kick to pass four runners in the last 400 meters and finishes in the 5th spot for their team. Cross country is on the rise in the Big Bend and here is a look at what you can expect this year.

Maclay 1-ACoach Gary Droze started working with the Maclay cross country and track programs in 1994 and Maclay was smart enough to give him a full time job in 1998. Since that time he has won nine 1A or 2A state track or cross country championships. Included in this number are three girls’ cross country championships (1997-1999), two boys cross country championships (1998-1999), an 8th (1994) and a 4th (1996) place finish for the girls and one boys 3rd (1996) and one runner up (1997) in cross country. He is the Tallahassee Democrat’s Big Bend Coach of the Year. A strong tradition is being established at Maclay.

2000 should add another year to that tradition. The Boys again look to be the best in the state and have a chance of joining only seven other boys schools that have won three championships in a row. They are preseason number one and are looking to prove they can run with anyone. One team goal this year is to have the top five runners average 16:00 or faster in meets. The team leaders should be Ryan Deak (9th grade, 15:34), Matt Katz (12th grade, 15:59) and Joel Serna (12th grade, 16:02). Ryan comes into the season ranked 4th, while Matt is 6th and Joel is 7th in the State. They finished 6th, 8th and 9th at last year’s state meet. Ryan and Matt both ran sub 4:30 last year for 1600 meters and Ryan ran an outstanding 9:32.02 for 3200 meters (just under 2 miles) meter race. Joel ran 1:57.98 for third place in the 800 meters at state. Gone will be Thure Caire who had finished in the top three in the state for four straight years. Josh Connor (15:53) and Taylor Drake (16:11) are two seniors returning from last year looking to round out the top 5 and take Maclay to another state title. They were 28th and 50th at the state meet. There is also a group of 9th graders looking to break into the “scoring five.” Benn Harrell and Brandon Harris are future stars and both posses the ability to run sub 17:00. Others on the roster include Casey Perkins (9th), Doug Kraus, Tyler Fulmer Dusty Metz and Richard Walls.

The Girls have set the standard incredibly high with three straight state championships, from 1997-1999. They also finished 4th in 1996 and 8th in 1994. A fourth straight title would make them one of only six schools to win that many in a row. But they do not have the same depth returning that the boys do. Nicole Posey, last year’s number one runner for most of the year was not back at the start of the season. Jennifer Emo, last year’s top finisher at state (3rd, 10th grade) will start the season with a cast due to a stress fracture. Kara Newell (6th at state, 11th grade), Anne Johansen (11th at state, 12th grade), Molly Drake (39th state, 11th grade), M.C. Willis (41st, 9th grade), Laura Ostrov, Molly Jones (11th) and Lara Hawks will be the key to keeping the tradition going at the start of the season. Kara ran 18:57 last year and brings the fastest time back, just below Jennifer’s 19:03.(Nicole ran 18:38 last year and would have the fastest time if she returns.) In the 1600, Jennifer has the edge with a 5:22.58, while Kara has run 5:25.72. She has also run an 11:28.17 3200 meters. Anne Johansen did not run track, but brings a sub 20:00 minute time (19:57) back from last year and will be ready to pick up the slack from some of the missing runners. Molly Drake will be looking to break 20:00 minutes for the first time this year. M.C. ran 21:07 and 22:40 at the state meet, while Molly ran 22:40. 

Florida High 1-AThis will be coach Gretchen Meyer’s first season of coaching cross country at Florida High, but she will be working with some talent. Last year’s boys team finished 4th in the state, while the girls were 7th in the region. She also got to know some of her runners well during track season last year when she led the girls to 2nd place at the state track meet and the boys to a tie for 15th. The boys start the season ranked 5th in cross country.

The Girls team will be led by Christine Cooper (12th grade), who reportedly has had a good summer of training. She ran a 2:23.62 800 meters to take 4th at state and make the Big Bend Honor Track Roll. She also led her team to the 4 x 800 state championship last year with a total time of 9:52.85. She ran 20:48 in the district cross country meet last year and figures to improve a lot on that time during 2000. Amy Pla will be back for Florida High. Jessica Earp is also expected to help out with this year’s team.

The Boys team was led last year by Ted Terry who finished 7th at the state meet in a time of 16:10 and comes into this season ranked number 5 in the state. He should be ready to break his PR of 15:58 this year and lead Florida High back to state. Jamaal Wilson and John Allaman will give Florida High a very strong top three. Jamaal ran 16:27 to finish 15th at state, while John was just behind in 23rd place with a time of 16:46. Jamaal starts the season at number 9. Jason Heinze ran 17:30 at state and hopefully, will be helping out again this year. Kyle Pla, the only underclassman (11th grade) of this group will assure Florida High has five runners under the 20:00 minute mark. Rumor has it that he has been leading the early season time trials for Florida High.

Chiles High – 1ALast year was not only Coach Scott Gowan’s first year coaching at Chiles High School – it was the first year for the school. In addition, the school only had 9th and 10th graders. Nevertheless, he put together boys and girls cross country teams and watched the girls go to state and finish a remarkable 17th. Optimism is high at Chiles this year and a lot (30) of determined runners have reported back to school in good shape and ready to go. There are three classes to work with now (9-11) and Chiles will probably move up to 2A next year. While neither team is ranked preseason, watch out for both the boys and girls teams to find their way into the top ten this year! Coach Gowan has coached his share of state champions – boys cross country champions in 1997 (runner up in 1996) and six track and field championships for boys from 1994 to1999 – all at Port St. Joe High School.

While the boys teams were Coach Gowan’s strength at Port St. Joe, it is his Girls that have taken off at Chiles. The first lady to date has been a very talented and gutsy Zita Magloire. She is preseason number 10, but ran a mile PR of 5:13.39 and an 800 PR of 2:20.52 to win both events at the state track meet. A summer of strength building should lead her to a PR well below the 11th grader’s current current 20:08. She will have good help from Kristine Isom(11th, 20;34), Meredith Pedersen (10th) and Maria Hampton. Maria is a 9th grader with a lot of potential and a quick 800 meter time. Karla Savery is a long time GWTC member and will likely contribute a lot to the team this year. She ran a 30 second 200 in the summer track meet. Kristen and Meredith competed at last year’s state meet and ran 21:09 and 24:32. Others to compete in last year’s state meet were Jessica Cox and Lindsey Gardner. Audra Hatchet, Megan Hay (10th), Layne Maifarth (9th) and Molly Scheiner (10th) will also be battling to make the top seven.

The Boys team will be much improved this year. Coach Gowan believes he has as many as eight boys that can run under 18:00 minutes and seven are returning from last year’s team. First on the list is J.W. Givens. While he is not related to former state champion Rod Givens, who ran for Coach Gowan at Port St. Joe, the 10th grader will be wearing the same number – 1. Others returning from last year include James Benedict (11th), Brian McKenzie (10th), Ryan Ford (10th), Greg Garis (10th) grade, Tim Duff(10th) and John Oswalt (10th). New contributors will include Herb Thiele (10th grade, 4:58 mile), Michael Lewis (10th), Byron Todd (11th), Nick Hall (10th) and Ryan Dozier (10th). Some 9th graders who may help include Kyle Savery (GWTC member), Joel Williams, Alex Miletich and Stephen Andrews. Hunter Cook is a transfer student from South Carolina, where he had a very good year as a middle school runner last year. 

Wewahitchka – 1ACoach Jay Bidwell’s boys teams won a state championship in 1995 and were runners up in 1996. He coached the Gators for 8 or 9 years, but will not return this year. Last year the Gators were the 12th best team in the state and potentially they have a strong contingent returning this year. Wewahitchka did not field a Girls team for districts.

Chester Udell (12th grade) brings the fastest time (16:49) back from last year. Jeremy Sams (12th, 17:51), Myron May (12th, 17:58), Billy Vasquez (11th, 18:58), Fritz Stoppelbien (9th, 19:09), Eddie Vasquez (11th, 19:37) and Mitchell Udell (8th, 21:47) all ran in last year’s state championships and should help improve this year’s Boys team’s finish.

Port St. Joe – 1ALast year the Boys got started with life under a new coach by finishing 14th in the state. Rod Givens, a former state champion who was 4th at last year’s meet, led the team. The all-star runner will not be back this year though and the five state finishers who do return will have to pick up the slack. Josh Todd (12th, 17:02), Alex Hernandez (12th, 19:14), Kyle Davis (10th, 19:19), Santiel Chambers (11th, 19:34) and Adam White (12th, 19:45) were all underclassmen eligible to come back. Port. St. Joe did not have a Girls team in the districts.

Marianna – 2ALast year, Marianna’s Boys team, Coached by Allan Gibson, finished 16h in the state. arianna’s boys open the season at the Mobile Challenge meet with five runners averaging 21:38. They included Steven Specht (17:50.8), Trent Hatcher (20:04.9) Nick Graves (20:16.5), Chase Walters (23:12.3) and Keith Harvey (26:50.4) I have not been able to gather any information on this year’s girls teams.

Godby – 3A . Coach Peter Ormsby is in his second year at Godby and is trying to build the cross country program there, while working on his PhD at FSU. He has a group of Boysready to try and build the program. K.J. Delaney (So.), Jason Fulghan (Sr., 18:33) and Brian Heavener (Fr.) will likely lead this year’s team. Cecil McCaren (12th), James Eikeland (10th), Danny Hamilton (10th), and Cassidy Pauson (10th, 22:38) hopefully will be ready to help out. The Girls team will be led by Promise Bloombergh (10th, 23:19), Laura Davis (12th, 22:51), Rachel Davis (12th, 27:04) and Ebony Evans (11th, 26:06). Others that may help out this year include Stephanie Soto and Chris Jenkins.

Rickards – 3ACoaches David Sampson (boys), Don Parrish (Girls). Erikka Thomas will be a senior and ran 20:43 last year. Others who ran for the Girls last year include Ya Yo Radder, M. McNair, Tehisia Stokes and Jennifer Beaz.

Lincoln – 4ACoach Perry Shaw has been at Lincoln since 1979. His brightest star during that time has been Kathi Ward. Kathi held the state final meet track records in the 1600 (4:55.72) and 3200 (10:55.94) until this past year when they were broken by one second. She also won state cross country championships in 1991 and 1992.

This year’s Boys team will be missing outstanding graduated runners Phillip Perry and Bryan Hendricks, but Lincoln will have a strong core returning. The team finished in 19th place at the state meet. Scott Poindexter (11th), Jeremy Conger (12th) and Brian Kretchman (11th) will be the leaders and all could run sub 17:00 this year. They ran 17:22, 17:39 and 17:21 to finish 102, 117 and 101 respectively, at the state meet. Matthew Sorrenti (10th) also finished the meet in a time of 18:29 for 150th place. Daniel Pitts (10th) could run near 17:00 and be a major contributor to this team. Ben Zera (12th) was a junior last year who will be trying to break 20:00 minutes this year.

The Girls team will have talent at the top, but will be looking for depth. Allie Hunter has the potential to rewrite Kathi Ward’s records, on the track at least. The tenth grader ran 19:10 last year in cross country and was Lincoln’s only participant at the state meet where she finished 41st. But she seemed to run at a different level during the track season, running personal bests in the 800 (2:14.85) and 1600 meters (5:02.82). She finished 3rd in the state in both events. If she can build the endurance to carry these times through the cross country distance she will have an outstanding season. Lincoln has also picked up a new runner from Israel, Megal Atias. The 9th grader brings an outstanding reputation. Katy Ziegler (10th, 23:52, 3rd GWTC grand prix) helped Lincoln finish 3rd in the district and 7th in the region last year and will be back to help this year. Elaine Ortega (12th) and Rebecca Moss are expected to help this year’s team.

Leon – 4ACoach Wills has watched her teams win five cross country championships and two runner up trophies. She has coached four athletes to seven state championships. While she did not start in time to coach son Herb to his championship, she did coach son Andrew to a runner up position and daughter Marcia to an 8th place finish. That is a lot of tradition.

Leon’s Boys team will be solid this year after finishing 17th in the state last year. Senior Michael Joanos gives Leon an outstanding number one runner and a preseason 4A All-American. He has the best cross country time in the area from last year, 15:24, and has run a 4:25.82 mile. Dempsey Gallagher (11th, 17:04) and Baker Irvin (12th, 18:35) ran the state championship meet last year where they finished 92 and 153.   Evan Hubener (9th, 18:51), Tyler Senderling (11th, 18:51) and Logan Wolcott (9th, 19:32), last year’s Champ Day winner, will be looking to help the team make it back to state.

The Girls team will be starting with all new runners looking to build good bases.