They say it can be lonely at the top. Interlachen High School's Jeremy Criscione can attest to this adage, as the senior harrier has done a thorough job of separating himself from the pack over the years. In 2003, Criscione won the 2A District 3 XC title by 31 seconds over friend and training partner Enoch Nadler, then a Keystone senior and now a Florida Gator. On Wednesday, Criscione repeated as district champion, this time winning by a full quarter mile, posting a 16:25 to Dunnelin junior Chadwick Hannah's 17:48. Criscione, typically several minutes in front of Interlachen's next runner over 5K, has grown used to forging ahead solo in team workouts, though he'll do what he can to help his teammates out.
Now, however, is when the fun begins, and from this point Criscione -- along with every other cross-country hopeful entering the championship season -- can be expected to have plenty of company. That, he says, is how he likes it.
"I'm really looking forward to college," effuses Criscione, who hasn't yet narrowed down his college choices. "I like the high-school atmosphere, but I'm really looking forward to college and training with a fast group of guys." He notes that Nadler's success as a UF frosh has whetted his appetite for immersing himself in the NCAA talent pool.
For now, Criscione is trying to balance his training so that he can excel both at the local (i.e., Florida) and national levels. With a 3200m best of 9:13 from last spring and a slew of mid-15:00 times -- many of them without competition -- he is a legitimate contender for one of eight spots available to runners from the South and three other U.S. regions at the December 11 Footlocker National Championship in San Diego. Last year, at the Footlocker South race in Charlotte, N.C., Criscione was 40th -- the 14th underclassman and the 4th Floridian. Two of the Sunshine State juniors in front of him, Tampa Jesuit's Andy Biladeau and Miami Gulliver Prep's Bryan Sharkey, are 2A rivals Criscione will battle for the state title on November 6. Last year at the state champs, Criscione was sixth; four of the five runners who beat him (Biladeau, Sharkey, Eduardo Arguello of Belen Jesuit Prep and William Mullaney of Bishop Kenny) return, making the 2A class of 2005 a formidable one.
This season, Criscione has enjoyed an escalating rivalry with Flagler Palm Coast junior Justin Harbor. After Criscione opened his season with an easy win at the FSU Invite on September 11, Harbor outkicked Criscione to win the flrunners.com Invitational on September 25 by two seconds (15:36 - 15:38); on October 9, Criscione scored a resounding win over Harbor at the Buchholz Bobcat Classic (15:40 - 16:15). Harbor has since ducked under 9:00 for 3200m. The duo won't face off again until the Footlocker South Regional on November 27.
Criscione envisions himself as a true distance runner and reckons he'll wind up a 5K and 10K specialist in college. He also wants to try the steeplechase. He says his off-season training in the winter mimics that he does in the summer (upward of 70 miles a week); this past summer, Criscione was able to get in some hilly running in Colorado and Utah, thus enjoying the opportunity to experience topographical variety not available locally.
A somber, unexpected element was added to the Interlachen team's season when head coach Dwayne Cox passed away in August after an extended illness. "That's definitely on my mind when I line up and when I'm racing," says Criscione. "He was my coach ever since I started running." That Criscione has effectively stepped into the role of assistant coach to new head coach Ed Mingle is right in character for the talented and focused senior, who has proven unusually adept throughout his career at turning potential loneliness into productive results.
An eager assortment of running fans in Florida can't wait to see how the story continues.