Zach White is in his second year coaching cross country at Mount Dora Christian Academy. In that time he has guided the Bulldogs to a runner-up finish in 2016 and a state title in 2017. We caught up with him to talk about this year's team and their journey to the top.
What chances or belief did you have in your team's chance and ability to make the podium?
We knew we had a chance as long as we continued to work hard, stayed healthy, and stayed consistent.
What advice or points of emphasis did you give your team prior to the race or the week leading into the state meet?
To keep their head down, their drive strong, to stay together, and to win together.
What was the game plan for state and how do you feel your team executed it?
To go through the entirety of the game plan would take to long. However, to make it brief, the plan was to give it all we had and to win. Considering the result (Champions and best team average we had produced all year), I would say that we executed very well.
Who do you feel really stepped up individually the most for the team at the state meet?
I cannot pick one guy. To win as a team, the entire team has to step up and that is exactly what they did.
What were the biggest challenges for this year's team?
We battled through a few different injuries this season along with various ailments. Through it all, every member rose strong and pressed on. It says a lot about a team when injuries don't stop their work. Gabe Curtis had a stress fracture for 8 weeks at the beginning of the season. He was in a boot and could not run. However, that didn't stop him from pursuing greatness. Instead of letting that injury defeat him, he still went to camp and learned, he got in the pool 4-5 times a week, and was consistent with his strength training. This team faced adversity, but they always responded with strength and determination.
Were there any low points in the season? How did the team bounce back?
When Gabe (our number one runner and last year's individual state champ) first found out he had the stress fracture, that was a very trying time for him and for our team. However, our team stayed focused and stayed business as usual. This team and the way it responds to adversity is one of its best characteristics.
Was there a particular race, workout, or moment that you knew that your team was ready or had the potential to become state champions?
I have known they would eventually be State Champions since the Regional Meet last year. It was only a matter of time. This group was far to young, far to determined, and far to special for anything less to have occurred.
How would you best describe the group of kids that you coach?
Family. I love each and every one of them.
What role do your assistant coaches play with the program?
Our program could not be near as successful without the help of Ryan Kessinger, Kathy Pruitt, Hayden Pruim, Lawson Hurley, Emily Post, and Mitch Wood. They volunteer so much of their time simply because they love this team and they want to do all they can to help it achieve its goals. I have an immense amount of trust for each of my assistants and that is a game changer when you get to work with people that you know you can trust with anything. They don't just get things done. They get it done the right way.
Who were the leaders on your team and what was the importance to the squad?
Jackson Pruim and Gabriel Curtis were this year's Captains. Their level of importance cannot be described in just a few words. I will say this- They are two irreplaceable people on this team. They inspire, but not just with their feet but also with their words, their character, their passion, and their faith. I love them both dearly and cannot wait to see what they do in track this upcoming spring.
Who was the biggest individual surprise or runner that most impressed you with their improvements this year?
Considering how hard both of these guys work, I am not sure that I can say I was surprised because I really wasn't. I truly expected them to do what they did. BUT, my answer to this question would be Jackson Pruim and Tom Valente. Both of them dropped close to a minute off their time from last year. That is not an easy thing to do when you are dropping from 17's to 16's or 18's to 17's.
How would this team rank against some of the past teams that you coached?'
I have not coached for long so measuring against my past teams doesn't hold much weight right now. However, as I look to the future, I would go to say that this team is going to be a hard team to surpass.
Every state championship/podium team seems to have a special or unique makeup that makes them state champions. What were some of those characteristics of this year's team?
Their vision was clear. Their drive was unmatched. Their brotherhood was untouchable.
What are your expectations for next year's team?
To continue to climb. We have many more things we want to accomplish. This year was only a chapter in our story, but man, it sure was a good one.