Eight county runners enter states

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For the fifth straight season and seventh time since 2007, Nature Coast Technical’s vaunted boys cross country program has reached its ultimate goal: the FHSAA Finals.

The 68th annual state finals, featuring eight races (Class 1A-4A boys and girls), are set for Saturday morning at Tallahassee’s Apalachee Regional Park’s 3.1-mile layout.

Hernando County will be represented by eight elite runners, all in the 2A races, including NCT’s seven-man boys squad featuring: seniors Conner Schwefringhaus and Daniel Montoya, juniors Austin Mulyck, Jacob Rockwell, Matt Aubertin and Marc Preston, and freshman sensation Trevor Foley.

NCT junior Amelia Schmit is the county’s lone entry in the female division.

Almost half of the NCT boys contingency has experienced competing not only at this pressure-packed event, but running at the same Leon County venue the past two years.

Additionally, the thinclads are expected to be aided by the low 50-degree temperatures during the race.

On what might bolster the Sharks’ chances, “The course is nice and wide open with one big loop. There are a couple of rolling hills and it’s a true cross country course running through the woods,” explained Milholland.

“Plus the experience factor should give our guys a little more confidence,” insisted Milholland. “A guy like Austin is making this third trip to states. Having that experience of running on this course is huge.”

Mulyck, ranked as the county’s No. 2 runner behind a personal best 5K clocking of 16:31.85, finished 141st as a freshman before improving to 99th last season.

Aubertin (171st) and Rockwell (156th) both competed on the all-grass Apalachee Regional Park surface last year.

Schwefringhaus missed running in this race last year due to a family commitment, so he along with Montoya, Preston and Foley will all be making his state debut.

Last fall, NCT finished 22nd in 2A out of 24 teams. On Saturday, the Sharks enter seeded in a tie for 15th place with Tampa-Berkeley Prep.

Winter Park-Trinity Prep is heavily favored to repeat as state champion while an intense battle looms for the runner-up trophy between Jacksonville-Bishop Kenny (2012 state champ), Fort Lauderdale-Pine Crest and Lakeland’s McKeel Academy.

Though the California Street thinclads placed among the state’s top 10 in 2011-12, finishing fifth and seventh respectively, the Brooksville distance runners do not have the depth – particularly in the back end of the lineup – to compete for the tallest trophy.

In fact, NCT’s finest runner, the 15-year-old Foley, will arrive seeded 13th overall. The county’s top-ranked runner, however, is on the precipice of eclipsing several records.

The first-year Shark phenom has finished in the top 10 in each of the races he’s competed in. With one more top-10 finish, he’ll tie the 5K county record set by Hernando senior Ben Martucci in 2006 (11).

Of NCT’s 67 career 5K runners, Foley ranks fourth all-time behind a personal best time of 16:21.35. Only Matt Lambert (16:19.99), Cody Van Natter (16:12.55) and Bruce Federico (16:06.00) stand ahead of him.

On a fast course and pushed by stellar competition, Foley may break loose.

Federico holds the school record with the best-ever state finish – the school’s only previous top-10 effort at states, finishing ninth in Dade City in 2008.

Just as motivating, no Hernando County freshman runner has ever placed among the state’s top 10 – earning first team All-State honors – over the past 44 seasons.

Milholland believes Foley is hitting his stride.

“Trevor will probably run this race in his head 1,000 times before Saturday,” noted the defending Hernando Today Coach of the Year. “Last week, he broke out quickly and remained out front and it worked. I thought he adapted well, especially on a tough course.

“Even though he’s seeded 13th, he beat five of the guys who are ranked above him at Alachua,” added Milholland. “To me, there are no clear-cut winners of this race.”

Milholland’s goal for Foley is simple, as the coach said, “If Trevor gets a top 10 in that field; I’ll be pleased. The pre-state race times in Tallahassee were phenomenal. Why not go out with a bang? I think Trevor will go for broke.”

Assessing the remainder of the team, “Right now, we’re seeded either 15th or 16th,” he said. “I think Jacob and Conner can break 17:40. I believe all the rest can go under 18:15. If we do that, I see us finishing 13th – it’s that tough a field.”

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The first-year Schmit would love to duplicate what Springstead sophomore Amber Philpott accomplished in last year’s 3A state race.

Philpott concluded a remarkable breakout season with eight top-10 finishes in eight meets by placing ninth in Leon County.

NCT, which placed 13th as a team in 2012 and 14th last season, has never before been represented by an individual runner.

Like Foley, Schmit may shred the record book. She’s also chasing a ghost. No Hernando County female runner has captured states since Hernando High senior Gina Bawden – a move-in from New Zealand – in 1993.

With one more top 10, Schmit will extend the school’s single-season record of top-10 finishes. With a 10th straight top 10s, she’ll tie Alexa Lacy’s school career record.

Schmit, who surpassed Alyssa Deligio’s previous school mark of 20:27.00 behind an 18:53.91 clocking this season, needs to finish better than Deligio’s 42nd place at states in 20:30.01 in 2013 to establish two new school records.

In 2013, Philpott set the county record for the fastest time at states in 18:49.14.

Milholland believes Schmit, who is seeded 10th, is primed for stardom.

“Physically, she’s great,” pointed out Milholland. “She’s running well and feeling good and precisely at the right time of the year.”

On Schmit’s game plan, “Again, she’s got to get out in front,” insisted Milholland. “She’ll be surrounded by Bolles girls and there’s (North Marion senior Leigha) Torino, too. She’s got to stay within striking distance of that first pack. She can’t allow herself to run in gaps.”

At a Glance

What – 68th annual Class 2A Boys Cross Country FHSAA Finals.

Who – Twenty-four teams are expected to compete including Region I’s Jacksonville-Bishop Kenny, Pensacola-West Florida, Pensacola Catholic, Jacksonville-Bishop Snyder, Jackonville-The Bolles School and Crawfordville-Wakulla; Region II’s Winter Park-Trinity Prep, Orlando-Lake Highland Prep, Nature Coast Technical, Citra-North Marion, Gainesville-Eastside and Wesley Chapel; Region III’s Lakeland-McKeel Academy, Tampa-Jesuit, Immokalee, LaBelle, Englewood-Lemon Bay and Tampa-Berkeley Prep; and Region IV’s Fort Lauderdale-Pine Crest, Rockledge, Miami-Ransom Everglades, Fort Lauderdale-Calvary Christian, Fort Lauderdale-Cardinal Gibbons and Key West. Defending state champion is Trinity Prep.

Where – Tallahassee’s Apalachee Regional Park.

When – Saturday at 10 a.m.

At Stake – State championship. Trophies awarded to the top two teams while medallions are presented to the top 10 individual placers.

What – 41st annual Class 2A Girls Cross Country FHSAA Finals.

Who – Nature Coast Technical junior Amelia Schmit. Defending state champion is Bolles.

Where – Tallahassee’s Apalachee Regional Park.

When – Saturday at 9:10 a.m.

At Stake – State championship. Trophies awarded to the top two teams while medallions are presented to the top 10 individual placers.

By the numbers: NCT’s All-Time Boys Cross Country State Results

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

YR CLASS PLACE COACH

2007 2A 14th/24 teams Armen Merjanian

2008 2A 13th/24 teams Armen Merjanian

2010 3A 20th/12 teams Eric Milholland

2011 2A 5th/24 teams Eric Milholland

2012 2A 7th/24 teams Eric Milholland

2013 2A 22nd/24 teams Eric Milholland

By the numbers: NCT’s All-Time Girls Cross Country State Results

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

YR CLASS PLACE COACH

2012 2A 13th/24 teams Eric Milholland

2013 2A 14th/24 teams Eric Milholland

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