Last year the Buchholz girls’ cross country team narrowly missed the state meet after the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) made changes to the number of invitees due to COVID-19.
But this season could be the start of something special for the foreseeable future.
According to Mainstreet Daily News cross country correspondent Ricky Quintana, the Lady Bobcats are currently ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 4A.
Buchholz is seeking its first girls cross country state title since 2005. Only six Alachua County teams have won state titles.
Oak Hall has four, all under current head coach Edwin McTureous. The Lady Eagles won their first state championship in 2012, followed by titles in 2016 and back-to-back in 2019 and 2020.
Buchholz (4A title in 2005) and Newberry, which won the 2A state title in 1992, both won championships under then head coach Ron Norris.
Current Buchholz coach Mike Maren began his career under Norris at Buchholz in the early 2000s when his son was competing.
“It was a great experience,” Maren said. “I look at Coach Norris as my mentor. I just started loving distance running and the coach needed an assistant, and I stayed with him for about 14 years, so everything I really learned I give credit to him.”
Norris is retired now, although he still does some officiating and continues to assist Buchholz.
Quintana has seven Buchholz runners in his top 21 rankings. The list is highlighted by junior Kate Drummond, who is one of the top harriers in Class 4A. Drummond recently won the Cecil Field Classic on Aug. 27.
Sophomore Lucy Voss, who transferred from Colorado a couple of years ago, joins Emma White as super sophomores who, according to Quintana, “could gel into one of the area’s best teams ever.”
Freshman Ashley Hamilton had never run a 5K race, but her time of 20 minutes, 58 seconds was topped area freshmen.
“It was a huge surprise,” Maren said. “We just didn’t know what to expect because it was her first race.”
Rounding out the top five is freshman Eleanor Whisler, who had a very successful cross country campaign at Queen of Peace Catholic Academy.
Sophomore Gloria Chang adds to a deep but youthful roster.
“It’s extremely young,” Maren said. “We have three sophomores and two freshmen in our top seven. Kate’s a junior, and we have one senior (Elizabeth Loosli). They all worked really hard over the summer. They came into the season in great shape.”
The key to a state championship run will be to get the team to peak at the right time. Maren said he is pleased with where they are at right now heading into Saturday’s Bartram Trail (St. Johns) meet.
“I’m really happy with them and what they’ve been doing,” he said. “They are starting to gel as a team.”
Among the top meets for Buchholz are the Bobcat Classic on Oct. 9, the 4A-District 1 Meet on Oct. 29, and the 4A-Region 1 Meet on Nov. 6. Santa Fe College will host both the 1A and 4A regional meets.
The FHSAA Cross Country state championships are in Tallahassee on Friday, Nov. 9.