2A Boys: BK

Bishop Kenny junior Michael Wallace repeatedly answered every surge thrown his way by Estero junior Erick Montoya in Saturday’s 2A boys state championship race, en route to the individual title.

Neither Wallace, his BK teammates - nor anyone else in the field, for that matter - had an answer for Belen Jesuit. With Joseph Dorfman and Elliot Clemente fronting the Wolverines’ tight-knit group, Belen captured its third consecutive 2A team title and fourth in school history.

“They set out from the beginning to be a great team and they knew they would have to run in the big meets, because we didn’t want to hide and run away from many of the larger races,” said Belen coach Frankie Ruiz. “I told them we’re going to be good all season long. We’re not going to wait for state to turn it on, so when we get to state we’re just going to do what we’ve been doing all year long.”

Arguably the best team in the state all season, the Wolverines put an exclamation point on the high school season with a 45-point performance, which was good enough to get past an outstanding effort from Tampa Jesuit (61). Bishop Kenny was third (96).

Capping a brilliant season, Wallace claimed his first state title - a state-leading seventh for a Bishop Kenny runner - by pulling away from Montoya for a three-second victory in 15:19. His winning time established a new school record, formerly held by 2002 state champion Ryder Leary.

Wallace said he “tried to keep good thoughts” in his head as he charged up the final incline at LER with Montoya pumping feverishly to keep pace.

“He (Montoya) just kept throwing in surges,” said Wallace. “I just tried to stay with him and see what happened in the end. I threw in a last surge and he just didn’t respond.”

Wallace afforded himself a brief check of his peripheral vision in the closing meters, only to see that he had finally broken Montoya, who along with Dorfman (3rd, 15:36) and Clemente (5th, 15:45), pushed the pace early on.

“Every challenging college workouts I given him - even the Michigan workout - he continues to dominate,” said BK coach Kristin McWilliams. “His intensity and focus …. (and) talent is unbelievable. I’m really proud of how hard he worked.“

McWilliams was equally excited by BK junior Colin Barker’s fourth-place finish (15:42), yet neither the Crusaders 1-2 punch or the 6-7 finish by Tampa Jesuit’s Connor Revord and Jordan Schilit, could overcome Belen’s depth.

The Wolverines not only overwhelm with shear numbers, they have sufficient talent that dips well into the junior varsity and even middle school ranks.

“It’s a luxury but it’s also challenge because it becomes so competitive within the team, you know you have to harness that and hopefully take it outside of the team, but get the juices competitive where everyone wants a piece of it,” said Ruiz. “We try our best to promote competition within the team to some degree, but we want to race the competition, not their own team.”

The Wolverines placed their top five in the first 17 finishers within a 36-second spread while averaging 15:58. Tampa Jesuit had a tighter spread (23 seconds) but couldn’t quite measure up as all five Belen runners finished ahead of its No. 3 finisher Ben Martin (18th, 16:13).

Belen isn’t quite finished. Ruiz will take his team, which has three seniors in the top seven, to the NXN Southeast Regional this week in an effort to win a spot at Nike’s national championship meet in Portland, Ore.

That would be another feather in the cap of a program that appears built to make a run at the record for consecutive state titles, which is five and shared by Maclay and Melbourne Holy Trinity.

“We’ve got a good bunch of kids moving up (next season),” said Ruiz. “We’ve got 29 on the team and I’d say 29 are capable of competing next season again.”