Preview by Brent Vaughn

With the 2023 FLYRA Cross-Country season upon us, we look to examine the top returning teams from last year’s state championship and which squads might have a chance to stand on the podium the final week of October.  Thankfully, cross-country isn’t an exact science; no one can measure the will of a team, the heart of a runner, or the dedication of a coach in the 10 months since the 2022 season saw the Tavares girls and Winter Springs Indian Trails boys hoist the public school trophy.  So take this preview with a grain of salt, while we believe that the subsequent schools will be in the mix, with over 300 public, private, and charter schools along with dozens of clubs vying for their respective championships, anything can happen.  And that’s exactly what we all love about the sport of cross-country.

Girls Top 5 Public School Contenders:

  1. Gulfview Middle School-  Last season’s Collier County champions and state runners-up return their ENTIRE top 7 girls from last year’s squad.  Led by Collier County champion Miah Beckman, Gulfview averaged an outstanding 12:06 for the 3K Holloway Park course at state which would have won almost every state public school championship over the last decade.  Nicole Wilson and Toula Hickman also impressed at state running sub 12’s and their entire scoring team ran under 12:33.  Not only are Gulfview the most talented team coming into the season, the Naples girls tend to run their best times at state and will challenge to break last year’s Tavares squad’s 11:27 average for the fastest middle school public school girls team of all-time.
  2. East Ridge Middle School– Another school that returns all seven scoring runners, East Ridge was runner-up to state champion Tavares in the Lake County Championship and placed 3rd at state last year, edging out Pine Ridge Middle School by 4 points.  The girls from Clermont have one of the best 1-2 punches in the state with Anieliz Galarza and Michaela Appleton both with PRs in the 11’s and two years of championship experience medaling at state as 6th and 7th graders.  East Ridge will also add one of last year’s top elementary school runners in the state, Sophia Galarza, to their already potent lineup.
  3. Emerald Coast Middle School- Perennially one of the best teams in the Florida panhandle, Emerald Coast returns four of their top 7 girls after individual state runner-up Scarlett Griffin moves on to high school.  Always a deep and competitive team, last season’s Panhandle Athletic MS Conference Champions will need a big season from their 4-5 runners to challenge for the podium.  Both Adelynn Tollett and Aine Finucane have run in the 12’s and will lead the Stingrays from Santa Rosa Beach this season.
  4. Deerlake- I have no idea where to rank the Deerlake squad because many of the top panhandle girls also run for one of the top club teams in the state, Red Hills Running Club out of Tallahassee.  Some of the girls choose to run for their middle schools at the state meet while others opt for their club.  Last year, Deerlake had one of the top teams in Florida but 6th grader Emma-Claire Tanenbaum decided to compete for Red Hills at state.  If she decides to run for her school at state this year, last year’s Leon County champions return four of their five runners from the team that placed 14th at state last season.  For the record, Red Hills placed 4th in the club championship.
  5. Tavares- The entire scoring team from last year’s public school state champions moved on to high school including state/national champion Cheyenne Thomas.  However, the 11-time Lake County champions have placed in the top 4 at state 7 of the last 11 seasons and their JV team placed 3rd overall in the 2022 open division race giving the “Red Sea” plenty of talent to continue that run.

The Best of the Rest:

Rampello K-8- All 7 scoring runners return from last year’s 10th place squad.  Seventh grader Jada Ordaway is one of the top individual runners in Florida and placed 3rd in the championship.

Mount Dora- Returns 6 of 7 runners that placed 16th at state

Ruckel- Chose not to participate at state last year but won the Okaloosa MS championship

Destin- Second to Ruckel in Okaloosa MS championship last season, returning 3 of top 6 runners from 6th place team at state

Boys Top 5 Public School Contenders:

  1. Ruckel Middle School- The Ruckel Rams from Niceville return their four top runners, and six of their top eight from last season.  The Okaloosa County champions boast two runners in the 10s in Reid Sadowski and Sebastian Riemer and his brother Brayden who ran 11:14 at state.  Add Luke Stevens and Brody Mathis who return in the low 11s with a year’s growth and Ruckel seems like it could be the favorite for the 2023 title.  The FSU Pre-State meet will be an important barometer for Ruckel to see how they will battle some of the other top teams in Florida including rivals Emerald Coast who placed 3rd at the state meet last year.
  2. Neptune Middle School-  The Osceola County championship team out of Kissimmee is the only boys squad returning two runners in the top 20 in the state meet, Langston Carry, who placed 5th and Nicholas Gordils, who finished 19th.  Pair them with 7th grader Jaxen Powers and that gives Neptune three guys projected to be in the top 20 this season.  The question is going to be if they can develop the depth to have their 4-5 runners score in the top 50.  If they can do that, they are certainly one of the teams that can win it all this year.
  3. Tavares Middle School- Last year’s boys state runners-up and Lake County champions should be in the mix again this year although they are losing two of their top three runners from last season to high school.  In almost any other year, placing five runners under 11:05 would have won the state championship but Winter Springs Indian Trails was too good with three runners in the top 10.  Look for Tavares 8th grader Maddox Mars to challenge for the individual title.  Tavares will need returners Eric Chen and Nate Meloy to dip into the 10s and help from their perennial depth for them to have a chance to catch Ruckel and Neptune, among others.  The Patriots, who also run as Red Sea Running Club, have placed in the top 4 at FLYRA state 10 of the past 11 seasons.

The Best of the Rest:

Emerald Coast- Third at the 2022 state meet, and return three runners under 11:30 but need to develop 4-5 runners.

Fairview- Returns three runners from a team that placed 8th in the state, led by one of the top runners in the panhandle in Emari Thomas

Indian Trails (Winter Springs)- One of the most successful programs in FLYRA history, the defending champs lose their top 3 runners but do return two guys under 11:26 in Connor Calhoun and Dylan Diaz

Oak Ridge- Six of their top nine return and will certainly jump from 10th to most likely the top five.  While they have a tight split, they don’t have a single returning runner in the 10s