Scouting Reports: Winter Park Girls

When you look at the 4A rankings, Winter Park girl's cross country team comes in at number eight. However, the list doesn't take into account transfers and incoming freshman so you can throw those numbers out the window, as the Wildcats last year's 4A Cross Country Finals runner-up will be a definite title contender in 2014 along with South Florida power St. Thomas Aquinas. Juniors Katherine Kuhn and Emily Nix will be joined by sophomore Hana Herndon, Michigan transfer Elizabeth Jenkins and Lake Highland Prep transfer Maddison Larabee, as well as perhaps the top incoming freshman in the state Rafaella Gibbons to form one of the deepest teams in the state. We caught up with Coach McWilliams to get the scouting report on the 2014 Winter Park Wildcats.
How did your team fare last season and what do you take away from 2013?

Last season,the girls were the 4A State Runner-Up, 4a Region 1 Champions, 4a District 4 Champions, Metro East Champions, Astronaut Invitational Champions, Invitational ROC Runner up, 3rd place at the University of Florida Mountain Dew Invitational, and 3rd place at the FSU/ Pre-State Elite Race. The girls gained confidence and gained big race experience but were left hungry for the state title. We respect all competition and look forward to a fun and healthy season!

How is the team looking this year? 

The team is incredibly talented and super young! They are coming off of a superb track season which they can hopefully use as a springboard for the upcoming season. All of the top five boast personal bests of 5:15 or better and 11:30 or faster. We love track and field on our team and consider it critical to a strong cross country season (as well as the summer base).

What are your tentative top five and top seven?

In no particular order, our top five could take turns leading us throughout the year. Junior Katherine Kuhn (pictured left) is coming off a stellar 3rd place finish in the 1600m at state (5:05) and has a cross country personal best of 18:32 in her first season last year. Katie will not play club soccer this fall which should give her fresher legs. She is extremely talented and hasn't tapped into her gifts yet. If KK goes for it, she can accomplish big things this year. Right with her last year was rising Junior Emily Nix (also pictured left with Kuhn), who has a pr of 18:35 and finished 10th at the Cross Country Finals last year and had a strong track season including her 2:20 leg on our relay.She is a gamer and fierce competitor. Emily has impressed me from day one with her tireless work ethic, leadership, humor and artistic ability.

Rising sophomore Elizabeth Jenkins has a personal best of 19:01 from her former home in Michigan. She moved back to her parents' college town in the spring and ran track for Winter Park. She impressed us with a 5:14 and 11:19 to earn a state bid in the 3200m. "Lizbeth" is fearless, strong and loves hills! She is also sweet, silly, and an awesome baker and friendship bracelet maker. The 2nd half of the sensational sophomore duo, Hana Herndon, had a breakout track season. Last year in her frosh cross country campaign, Hana had a pr of 19:13 and scored a mere 26 points at CC state. She tore up the track with her 5:15 and 11:12 to secure the region runner up spot in the 3200m. Halfway through the race at state, she had an untimely fall which precluded her finish, after sitting solidly in the top 5. Hana is an amazing person, smart racer and hard worker and I am thrilled to see her build upon her stellar spring.

Incoming Freshman sensation Rafaella Gibbons (pictured below) should make a huge impact over the next four years. Rafey won almost every race she entered in middle school but more importantly has a phenomenal attitude and work ethic and already puts the team as her top priority. She is super focused, sweet and coachable.

Our six runner currently is rising sophomore Maddison Larabee. Maddi lives a few blocks from WPHS, but attended Lake Highland Prep last year. She has made huge gains having the "Fast Five" pushing her daily and motivating her.There are no limits to what she can achieve if she believes in herself. She is gifted and ready for a breakout season if she has the confidence! The 7th spot has a slew of contenders! Who will step up?

What are the strengths of this team?

The team is incredibly talented, coachable, dedicated, hard working, kind, encouraging, fun, friendly, sweet and motivated. They literally are a coaches dream! They welcome new members and encourage one another to be the best they can be. They take care of the little details that are required to be champions. We graduated three strong leaders so it has been fun to watch this young team find its own identity.

What has the training been like? Have you gone to any camps?

Our training has gone very well this summer. We have tried to get off the concrete jungle which surrounds us. As much as possible, we ran on the trails of Wekiva Springs, the clay road of Clermont, a trail at Osprey Park in Longwood, and a little wood chip trail out near UCF (that if anyone asks what team we are from I tell them that school down the street; sorry Coach P). All of these locations are very hard to get to during the school year with traffic and our athletes taking IB and AP classes. They are all 25 to 45 minutes away at 5 or 6 in the morning but double time that after school!  We took a large group to Brevard Distance Runners Camp. We got in valuable training, had a blast and got to spend rare time with other local teams. Shout out to Trinity Prep and thanks Lyman for two nights of s'mores (Coach Finke and Coach Rivera rock). Former WP standout and USC runner Kira Soderstrom worked as a junior counselor and our boys team won the dance contest!

Do you have any new additions who may contribute?

Besides Gibbons and Larabee we have quite a few promising young athletes. Incoming frosh Melanie White ran 2:29 for the 800m in middle school. Mel's big sis was a school record trackster for Winter Park and on our state runner-up cross country teamlast year. Another frosh has hung right up with the top six, but may decide to just do soccer. She is the little sis of a top five runner, but we may have to wait a year or two for her to come out. Froshies Jen Law and Sarah Breske have also shown they could contend for that golden 7th spot. These youngsters will have their hands full with three runners from last year's top ten, sophomore Patrica Abely and seniors Emory Parkins and Jordan Story.

What meets are you keying in on this year?
The top six will race in four regular season races plus the Metro East Championship and the state series. Our JV athletes will get to race varsity in a slew of races throughout the season. The Varsity will open up at the Astronaut Invite on 9/6 and then will travel to Georgia for the Carrolton Invite. After training hard a few weeks, they will travel to Great American in NC, followed by FSU/Pre-State.

What are the goals for this squad?

The team would like to improve on last year's state runner-up finish. Should they stay healthy, they are likely to compete at NXN SE and see what happens. The Varsity and JV girls have been working hard this summer, but will need to continue their efforts in the long season ahead. I am super excited for a fun and healthy season!

Anything else you'd like to add?

I am blessed with an incredible group of athletes, parents, principal, AD and coaches. Our parent group has gone above and beyond for me and I thank them for their continued support. My two assistant coaches have taken turns assisting me over the last five years and I am thrilled to have them both together this year. Kathy Anguish and Tracy Nolen are incredibly hard working, knowledgable and super fun to work with. I am also excited to work with Kathy's husband Will who has taken over the boys' program. I would like to wish every Florida athlete a healthy, fun and fast season ahead! See you on the course. I will be the one popping out of bushes at my team!

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