flrunners.com paid the Sunlake cross country program of Land 'O Lakes a visit in Pasco County this week for a Workout Wednesday shoot. The Sunlake boys were the 3A state runners-up from a year ago and are currently ranked 7th in the state of Florida regardless of classification after opening their season with consecutive team wins at the Jim Ryun FCA Invite and Lecanto Invitational.
The workout done on their track included 6 repeats of starting with 400 meters at goal race pace then rolling into the next 200 meters trying to turn over with more speed at an accelerated pace, and followed by a 200-meter jog in between before starting the next set. A total of 3 miles or 4,800 meters for the workout, which their top runners completed under 17 minutes even with the 200-meter jog rest.
Conditions for the workout included a steady rain included downpour at times but was a nice reprieve from the typical brutal heat and humidity for their afternoon workouts following school. They were preparing for their next meet this weekend at Spruce Creek High in Port Orange for an invitational meet. An off weekend will follow to end September before they jump in their biggest race of the season in the Race of Champions at the flrunners.com Invite on October 2nd to face off against their best competition to date.
The head coach Randal Reeves is excited about this year's team which only graduated one varsity runner from their 2020 state meet squad. This year's meet schedule so far has included tougher courses at Holloway Park and Lecanto, which has been by design by the coach not trying to give his runners a false sense of security and content running fast times early. As a result, their team might be under the radar or overlooked as well on paper compared to teams who have rolled out fast times on pancake-flat speedways.
Their team is not large with only 14 boys on the squad, so managing the health of the runners and margin of error with those numbers is small. Earlier in the season, one of their top runners in Alex Pena felt a muscle twinge in his leg and dropped out of the Jim Ryun FCA Invite. Thankfully, a serious injury was avoided as the loss of Pena would be devastating to the team's championship season goals despite still winning the meet at Holloway Park with a DNF by Pena. Pena was already back in action and racing well at Lecanto last Saturday with a third-place finish of 16:14.
The Sunlake boys are led by the duo of Colby Robbins and Alex Pena, who rank among or just outside the top 10 runners overall in the state of Florida. In the workout this week, it was noticeable though how #3 runner Cason Meyer with a 16:43 5K season-best currently was able to hang and run right with both Robbins and Pena as they motored around the track. Their team could start being known not for their formidable top two, but their stout top three with Meyer's progression and closing the gap on his front-running teammates.
Robbins won the Jim Ryun FCA Invite to kick off his season and finished runner-up at Lecanto behind only another top 10 ranked runner in Riley Novack of Montverde Academy.
The squad has a tall order in trying to pull off an upset this season on a reloaded and deep Belen Jesuit squad aiming to win their fifth straight state title in 3A. Sunlake has a solid #4 and #5 who have not had a chance to pop fast times in Cade Culpepper (17:30) and Nathan Lee (17:35), but it seems like a given that Belen Jesuit will have the advantage in those positions over them with additional runners beyond their top 7 under 17 minutes for 5K already this season.
Culpeper is only a freshman and should see a lot of improvement from him running his 17:30 debut on a tough Lecanto Invite course, while Max Goserud was the team's sixth runner last year and ran 17:10 at the state meet.
But ultimately, a path to a state meet victory for Sunlake appears to rely on their front three runners in Robbins, Pena, and Meyer if they can match up with Belen Jesuit's front trio of Adam Magoulas, Joshua Ruiz, and Julian Rodriguez.
It is definitely not out of the realm of possibility as Robbins (9th, 15:58) was only one place and one second behind Magoulas (8th, 15:57) in the state race last November, while Pena (12th, 16:02) was right off of them both. Meyer has great state meet experience with a sub 17-minute effort (46th, 16:55) at Apalachee Regional last year. Ruiz for Belen Jesuit did not run in the state meet as a freshman, while Rodriguez finished 21st in 16:19.
Regardless of the outcome in November, the Sunlake boys are definitely working hard to close the significant 93 point gap that existed between them and Belen Jesuit from a year ago at the state meet as state champions and state runners-up.