If Our Lady of Lourdes of Miami for some reason doesn't yet qualify as a Sunshine State cross-country dynasty, the program is certainly a convincing impostor. The team has won five of the last seven FHSAA cross-country championships in its class – a designation that has shifted nearly as often as the South Florida breezes: 2A through the fall of 2002, 3A the past two seasons, and now 4A beginning this autumn. But coach Ary Montalvo, entering his tenth season at the helm at the all-girls' school, keeps a closer eye on what he knows to be the Bobcats' chief rivals than on raw numbers games. "In cross-country the school sizes don't make as much of a difference," he says, noting the success of 1A powerhouses Holy Trinity and Episcopal. "You may have more kids who can run 19 or 20 minutes, but not necessarily up front."
Depth per se has never been an issue for Montalvo's teams. This year, 30 of the school's 800 or so girls are on the cross-country roster; he's seen as many as 98 show up for the first practice. "Numbers fluctuate," notes Montalvo, "but we've wound up with as many as 78 before." With only one full-time assistant, the jobs of his captains – one for each grade level – take on special importance, in particular ensuring that long runs are completed. "The long runs are the biggie," Montalvo says. "During the repetition workouts they're running in circles so they can't hide from me."
Lourdes returns 3 of its top 4 athletes from last year's squad, which at the FHSAA Finals ran over its nearest 3A competition, Wharton High, by 68 points. The trip to watch consists of sophomore Jillian Gill (4th in 18:45), junior Sasha Mera (5th in 19:01), and sophomore Meagan Hoar (22nd, 19:36). All had solid track seasons, with Gill notching an 11:11 3200 meters and Mera (11:36) and Hoar (11:40; 2:22 800 meters) safely under 12:00 as well.
As much of Lourdes' enrollment is fed by the 30 schools in Miami-Dade's Catholic Conference – about half of which feature cross-country programs – Montalvo has the luxury of often knowing the capabilities of his incoming ninth-graders. (Gill was a special example, having first competed in the 2A Finals way back in 2001 as a 6th-grader at Gulliver Prep, also in Miami.) Given his need to delegate responsibility in a manner that ensures all runners have equal access to the training program, this is no small consideration. He also coaches the South Florida Harriers running club in the summer, strongly encouraging his runners to participate in an environment that includes youngsters from a variety of area schools.
Being a strong perennial favorite might lead some coaches to de-emphasize and "train through" early-season invitationals, but not Montalvo. His philosophy is straightforward: Challenge his best runners with invitational meets in each of the first five weeks of the competitive season, rest the "A" squad for two weeks, then attack the championship (District, Regional and State) races.
As one might expect, Montalvo's chief challenge is not so much assembling talented, dedicated teams, but keeping his runners from the easy lure of complacency. "It's hard," he admits. "They've known success so they may wake up with the idea that everything's going to sort of take care of itself. What they need to remember is that other teams are working twice as hard and that (the Lourdes girls) are wearing targets on their backs." But, Montalvo laughs, he "finds ways to keep them dedicated – and they really are." And despite accumulating seemingly countless laurels in the past decade, Montalvo and the Bobcats nonetheless finds themselves chasing a first – a 4A state championship.