Central Florida Championship Teams Look To Replicate Success

Last November, the Mount Dora Christian boys cross country team and the Circle Christian girls cross country team left Tallahassee, the site of the FHSAA Cross Country State Championship as state champions. This season, both teams hope to have the same success as they did last year. Their roads to Tallahassee, however, might be a little different.

The MDC Bulldogs Looks to Replace Key Pieces

The Mount Dora Christian boys cross country team enters this season as the three-time defending 1A state champions. The Bulldogs will be looking to replace its three graduating seniors, including state champion and current FSU runner Gabriel Curtis as well as current Harding University cross country and track and field runner Jackson Pruim.

Bulldogs head coach Zach White looks to approach this upcoming season the same way that he and the team approached the 2016 cross country season. The Bulldogs established a culture that White said was encouraging, uplifting and family oriented and finished as the state runners up.

"I say we look back to four years ago because that's what we feel that this year has the potential to be, a year that we get to climb again instead of being at the top at the beginning," he said. "..The last three years set a precedent for the type of work ethic that has to happen and set a precedent to what it looks like to be on one of these teams."

Heading Into the Unknown

While the Bulldogs lost great talent and leadership from last year's championship team, they return some key pieces from that team. The Bulldogs will be led by senior Tom Valente, who White says is the team captain, junior Mitchell Curtis, who is the brother of Gabriel Curtis, as well as junior Nikolas Gibson.

Headed into the season, coach White said that his priority is building depth and finding pieces where he lost pieces. He also has done a couple of new things that he hasn't done in the past. One of those things is collaborating with the athletes in order to come up with ideas to continue building their team. He's also extended the team's training period by not scheduling preseason meets. He believes this will help the team find its identity.

Coach White believes that his team will be more balanced and he said that he's excited about the unknown headed into this season.

"I'm excited that I don't know who our No. 1 runner might be and I'm excited about not knowing who's going to step up in certain moments," he said. "..We've got good goals in place, but how we achieve those goals is going to be fun to watch."

Circle Christian Looks to Win Third Straight XC Team Title

The Circle Christian Centurions girls cross country team comes into this season as the two-time defending 1A state champions. The Centurions will be returning a strong core of runners, including junior state runner up Sinkenesh Parker and senior Brooke Mcewen. The two also finished 1-2 in the 3200 meter run at the FHSAA State Track and Field championship in May.

The Centurions will be led by first year head coach Tyler Jagen. Jagen took over for former coach Mark Caufield during the middle of last year's track season after he moved to the Atlanta area. He admits that he felt burned out from running during his later years in high school and that he hated running for a period of time. He said that the biggest thing he learned was how not to burn his athletes out.

"I want them to run no matter what because they've experience a joy of it, rather than a burden of carrying a team, or it becoming a job, or the burden of your own ego being all built that if you don't win you're insignificant," he said. "..I just really want them to look back at their high school career and say 'that was fun, that was really cool.'"

Fostering a Growth Mindset

Despite having a young team, Jagen says that team runs for each other and that they run because it's fun. He also says that the team has set their own goals for the season. Some of those goals include increasing their overall ranking in the state of Florida and to continue to break the school records for team average at states. Jagen is there to help motivate them and achieve those goals.

"I just try to set the table for them and let them decide what motivates them the most," he said. "I just try to remind them of the goal and set the table for them to get those things."

Jagen says that the depth that the team has is a blessing and a curse due to the influx of talent. But he hopes that the team uses it as motivation and encouragement to run well enough to be on the varsity team. He also says that the team will be going after some of the bigger schools at some of the bigger races this season to see how high their ceiling is.

"We want to compete more," he said. "I think this year we're going to kind of find out to see where our ceiling might be in some of those pre-states and invitationals with bigger schools."

Circle Christian will begin their three-peat quest at the Fleet Feet Invitational on Aug. 23.