For the six runners on the Mount Dora Christian Academy cross country team, this season was never about repeating as state champions.
It was about pushing themselves and their teammates to be the best runners they could be, wherever that took them.
On Saturday morning in Tallahassee, it took them back to the pinnacle of the sport on the high school level.
Paced by senior Gabe Curtis’ second individual state title in three years, the Bulldogs ran away with their second straight Class 1A state championship.
MDCA finished with 84 points to easily best runner-up Gainesville Oak Hall, which finished with 169 points.
“I think this season took on a different perspective for us,” MDCA coach Zach White said. “It really was never about repeating. It was about discovering what our best could be. It was about six guys who have been through this journey together. Our motto was to finish this story together and do it the right way. Winning state was always going to be a byproduct of that.”
Mount Dora Christian was so dominant, it actually would have won the title even if Curtis’ first-place finish hadn’t counted for the team.
Behind Curtis’ win Jackson Prium placed fifth (16:04.4), Mitchell Curtis was 15th (16:49.6), Thomas Valente was 36th (17:26.2) and Sebastian DeLeon was 41st (17:34.0).
Nikolas Gibson was 58th (17:54.2) and his 46 points didn’t count for MDCA, with only the top five finishers counting toward the final score. But if Gibson’s score had been counted instead of Gabe Curtis’, the Bulldogs would have still finished 40 points ahead of Oak Hall.
“We’ve got six really good runners,” White said. “A lot of times people aren’t super-educated about the scoring in cross country. But it takes a complete team to win a championship and that’s what we’ve got.”
White huddled with his team before the start of the race, an emotional moment as three seniors — Gabe Curtis, Prium and DeLeon — were about to compete in their final high school meet together.
“I told them to run with clear eyes and full hearts for each other,” White said. “The emphasis was on doing one final thing together and doing it to the best of their ability. These six guys are all very different, but they are as close as I can imagine any group getting. They are a brotherhood.”
Gabe Curtis, who was battling an illness, led the way for the Bulldogs one final time and won the race by more than six seconds over runner-up Jonathan Pitchford of Marathon.
“We have never thought of ourselves as just 1A, we thought of ourselves as the best runners in the state and that has proven to be true,” said Gabe Curtis, who announced his commitment to Florida State after winning the race.
“These guys are so special to me, they’ve been a godsend. My freshman year, coach White was the golf coach and these guys weren’t on the cross country team. Now we’ve ended up being a powerhouse.”
Other area teams and runners had success at the state championships on Saturday.
Montverde Academy placed third in the Class 2A meet, led by a fourth-place finish from Lily Henne (18:22.1) and a ninth-place finish by Kendyl Cardwell (18:46.6). Ryleigh Sperry (19:07.7) was 19th for Montverde and teammate Brianna Hiers was 39th (19:51.1). Rounding out the scoring runners for Montverde was Fernanda Uruchurtu Terrazas in 64th in a time of 20:33.0.
Rebecca Clark of The Villages placed second overall in 2A with a time 17:39.8, finishing 13 seconds behind winner Tsion Yared of Pine Crest. The Villages finished 15th overall as a team.
The Tavares girls were led by Chablis Shreffler with a 49th-place finish and Savannah Schwab in 51st. Adriana Montalvo was 72nd (20:45.9) and Kaycie Whitaker was 149th in 23:20.9.
Leesburg had a couple of strong performances in 3A, with Kareena Gladis taking 32nd place in the girls Class 3A race in a time of 19:46.7 and William Troupe finishing 47th in the boys race in 16:51.2.
South Lake’s Alexander Croy was 55th in the 3A race in 17:00.5.
In Class 4A, Lake Minneola’s Cadi Rowe was 19th (19:08.2).
MDCA’s girls team was led by a 42nd-place finish from Brianna Hall (20:39.3) in Class 1A.