Both St. Cloud (in Class 4A) and Harmony (in 3A) sent their girls and boys cross country teams to their state meets last year. St. Cloud, which is going on a decade of dominance in the Orange Belt Conference girls race. The Bulldogs swept both races last year, with a solid push from Harmony, and expect much the same at the Oct. 17 conference meet at St. Cloud.
The Bulldogs’ boys took a hit when three-time OBC champ Tristan Montalvo graduation, but Coach Kevin Harkema’s team is still strong at the top with juniors Zach Cloud and John-Anthony Hernandez, who finished 1-2 at the Winter Springs Invitational, the team’s first big weekend event of the year.
Senior Alex Miranda is also back from the state team last year, and sophomores Aidan Cuddy and Frank Cordovez and freshman Jonathan Macnab also finished in the top 50 to lead the team to a second-place finish in Winter Springs. Harkema also has a stable of freshmen working to bring depth if needed.
The girls team is deep on experience, with seniors Hazel Rodriguez and Bailey Ansbaugh, juniors Beka Benge, Nathal Abastida and Gabriela Lugo Pardo back. Freshman Leilani We won a quad meet Tuesday at St. Cloud.
The Longhorns, especially the girls, are loading up for another deep run and could thwart St. Cloud’s long-standing OBC dominance.
Senior Vanessa Bolen will run for a fourth individual conference gold medal, running in a pack with returning all-conference Longhorn teammates Allison Hicks and Brooke Mullins. Junior Claire Darrin is back. Ariana Ramos Mercado, Ashanti Ramirez, and Alanie Rivera round out the top seven.
“We have lots of talent returning and a few strong new additions,” Coach Shasta Edwards said. “The girls look really good.”
The boys team has a quartet returning: Nicholas Morrison, Hunter Oppedal, Jonathan Draper and Stephen Romer. Richard “RJ” Marino, Jayson Ramirez and Gary Kelley will also contribute.
“The boys have lots of experience and are ready to face the challenges of this season,” Edwards said.
The Lady Storm compete again under Coach David Rains, who is enthusiastic about the growth of his program.
“This year’s squad is has been working hard to close the gap with the top teams in the county,” he said. “We only have one senior (Hailey Gibbs) and the girls have bonded well to push each other to get better every day. We have set higher expectations this year, both individually and as a team.”
Sophomore Gabby Macedo is the top returner, and will run with fellow sophomores Jaden Teow, Willow Speiser and Tava Goerner, juniors Melanie Podborsky and Reema Ismail and freshman Luisa Santos.
Coach Johnnie Kirkland starts the year with a full slate of runners that, at the very least, will be able to post boys and girls team scores at OBCs.
Daniel Castaneda placed second among the boys at St. Cloud Tuesday. He’s joined by Joseph Berrios, Andrew Carrera, Anas Khamlichi, Richard Lebron, Eli Pena, Enzo Pires Cruz and Jorge Trejo.
Emily Cooper, Sarah Khan, Mairyn Krause, Erica Ledesma, Emily Morales and Haley Steidley will run for the girls.
“The runners are hungry for a competitive and successful year,” Kirkland said.
Girls coach Roger Raymond also takes over the Kowboys coaching duties this year.
Junior Rognie Ortiz was tops among OHS on Tuesday. Chase Fuller and Josh Rodriguez also return.
Jean Rivera, Mario Harris, Andres Soto, Josh Soto, Kevin Camera and Owen Lewis also competed and figure to have roles this fall.
The girls team features newcomers Katie Mejia, Jetzymar Rivera, Arianna Pacheco and Silviaisabel Mendez.
Coach Matt Fenn leads the first season of Tigers cross country, and their already made a little noise, placing ninth in last Saturday’s George Whitmire Classic in Winter Haven, right between Harmony and Osceola.
Fenn said runners like captains Adolfo Castro, Jerdary Ayala and Orlando Rivera are dropping seconds, if not minutes, from times already.
“The team is really beginning to hit their stride; working together and taking ownership of their goal to go to State,” Fenn said.
Also running are Edward Abisada, Brian Bron, Ricardo Ortiz, Kevin Guerra, Ricardo Allen, Jayven Garcia and Justin Gomez.
City of Life
The Warrior girls won the St. Cloud event Tuesday, led by seniors Debra and Reyna Buggs, juniors Yajaira Guzman and Vannessa Gonzalez and freshmen Kaylee Harkema and Kayla Shoemaker.
Senior Kenny Payton is right at 20 minutes and may make some noise in the postseason as an individual.
The Tigers have a crop of seniors who could make postseason waves in Class A: Jose Mundo, Nathanael Claudio, Alexander Rodriguez, and Enrique Escobar. Juniors Anthony Suarez and Miles Roseboro and sophomore Armando Ruiz Feliz.