The Buchholz girls cross country team has done it again.
On Friday morning at the FHSAA Cross Country State Championships at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, the Lady Bobcats won the Class 4A state title to win their third straight state championship.
Buchholz (143-166) finished ahead of Sunlake (Land O’ Lakes) to win the team title.
However, this time the task was much more difficult.
“This was hard, man,” said Buchholz girls cross country coach Mike Maren. “The first year we were a total surprise. The second year we had a target, so that was difficult. This time it was tough.”
Part of the toughness was when Florida signee Kate Drummond left they needed someone to step up, which didn’t happen early in the season.
“At the end of September, we went to a meet in Georgia and that’s when things kind of turned,” Maren said. “They started doing really well. There was leadership there. They all worked their butts off. They put everything into it.”
The Lady Bobcats didn’t have anyone finish in the top 20 individually as some of Maren’s runners were battling sickness.
Junior Eleanor Whisler had the best time at 19 minutes, 28.4 seconds and finished 24th overall, while senior Lucy Voss was second individually for the Lady Bobcats and finished 36th overall with a time of 19:56.3.
Junior Kaitlyn Goslinga (19:59.2) finished 37th, followed by sophomore Annika Caedington (19:59.6) at No. 38 and junior Ashley Hamilton (20:04.0) at No. 43.
“Today wasn’t our best day as far as times but we competed well,” Maren said. “I was super worried this week because I was talking to the (Buchholz) football coach and they had like 50 kids who were sick and it was going around the school. Our number five was really sick today (Eleanor’s sister Maggie). Lucy didn’t feel good and thought she was going to have to stop.”
The Lady Bobcats had more depth this year, and it really helped.
“I’m not so much about their times, it’s more about placing,” Maren said. “You can’t win team titles if you only have two runners. You have to have five. That fifth runner is super important.”
He told his team not to worry about personal records, to just go out and compete.
“It was tough emotionally (for me), but it’s very rewarding. I really want to keep it going,” he said. “This year we had a ton more runners, with JV, so our team went from 12 to 35, so managing that is tough because we’ve never had a team that big.”
Despite the obstacles, the Buchholz girls are state champions for the third straight year.
“I think this was harder, emotionally harder, but they’re super fun to work with,” Maren said. “They are really good kids and we are very proud of them. They pulled together and did what they needed to. We had like six people under 19:30, which is hard to do. We didn’t run that fast today but they sucked it up. They are really, really tough, some of the toughest kids I’ve been around.”
Meanwhile, the boys finished as state runners-up behind No. 1 Nease (Ponte Vedra).
The 4A champion Panthers, who lost to Buchholz in last week’s 4A-Region 1 meet, finished with 85 points, followed by the Bobcats with 95.
In the 10 years prior to the arrival of head coach Patrick Douma, the boys team had only gone to state once and finished 16th.
“I was very happy and pleased with the way that we ran,” said Douma, who is in his third season as the head coach of the Buchholz boys. “That Nease team is ranked No. 5 in the SE region, which includes 12 southern states. We knew it was possible (to win) but it was going to be tough. It was very close and it came down to about five seconds.”
Buchholz got a big boost as UF commit Riley Smith finished first with a time of 15:05.5.
“Riley ran perfect tactically,” Douma said. “There is nothing I could have asked for. The guy he beat (senior Jonathan Leon of Hagerty) is also a UF commit so there wasn’t any room for error.”
In fact, three Buchholz runners finished in the top 10.
Evan Fleming was seventh with a time of 15:38.3 and Gino Palazzolo finished 10th in the 5000m race (15:45.1).
“I think we might have been the only team on the day that had three in the top 10,” Douma said. “They are all friends and they train together.”
Sophomore Samuel Freas finished 16th with a time of 15:59.7.
“We had four runners break 16 minutes,” Douma said. “Only Belen Jesuit (3A) has had four runners break 16 minutes. That’s going back to 2012 when the meet was started to be run on this course. They are ranked No. 1 in the SE and No. 4 in the nation.”
It was the highest finish for the boys since finishing as 4A state runners-up in 2003 under then coach Ron Norris. Buchholz’s last state title was in 1994 when the Bobcats won the state title under current University of Florida Men’s and Women’s Track & Field and Cross Country Coach Mike Holloway.
The Oak Hall girls also had a top five finish.
The Lady Eagles, defending 1A state champions, were fourth overall behind state champion Pensacola Christian, Cambridge Christian (Tampa), and Maclay (Tallahassee).
Senior MacKenzie Klein (18:46.3) had the highest finish for Oak Hall at No. 10, while freshman Lola Murfee (19:53.2) finished 21st.
MacKenzie finished with a personal best time and was the fastest Alachua County girls runner out of all the classifications by 20 seconds.
The OHS boys finished just outside the top five at No. 7.
Junior Grant Curtis (16:27.0) had the best time for the Eagles and finished 17th overall, while senior Quinten Dragstedt (16:32.7) finished 20th.
“Both teams came up short on our state team goals today, but was still a great year,” said Oak Hall coach Edwin McTureous. “Both teams being district and region champs and having both teams at state made for a special year. I am very blessed to have had the opportunity to coach both teams this season.”
Official results: https://live.pttiming.com/xc-ptt.html?mid=5860
This is the final newsletter until after the holiday. It will return on Monday, Nov. 27, with a girls and boys basketball season preview.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.