After finishing runner-up at the past two 4A state championships, Steinbrenner High’s varsity cross-country team won it all this year — defeating 31 other teams.
The FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) 4A state championships were held on Nov. 9 at Tallahassee’s Apalachee Regional Park.
The Steinbrenner Warriors were paced by senior Josh King, who finished in sixth place overall, crossing the finish line in 15:52.32 The rest of the team’s top five runners were senior Blake Walker (19th,16:05.88), senior Gabriel Lara (32nd, 16:19.79), junior Zachary Harrigan (45th, 16:26.18) and senior Rama Jonnalgadda (56th, 16:30.95).
Steinbrenner’s 129 points were enough to edge out second-place team finisher Nease High (140), despite the latter having three of the race’s top five finishers.
Steinbrenner’s showing marked the program’s first-ever state title.
After falling just short of that elusive crown in 2017 and 2018, winning it all meant that much more.
“You see how hard these guys work, and for them to have that moment, it’s unreal, you can’t really describe it,” Warriors head coach Allison Szponar said. “It was kind of surreal to be a coach…and you really appreciate all that goes into it and how hard that these guys have worked day in and day out in their absolute, unyielding commitment to the team and our mission.”
That was especially the case for King, who battled injuries each of the last two years. He missed all his sophomore year with a stress fracture, and only ran a few races as a junior before he was sidelined again.
Said King, “I kind of wanted to show who I am and prove my potential, and try to really lead the team because we’ve been runners-up for two years in a row, and we were really hungry for it and I wanted to contribute to it.
“I think ending on a high note is really great for me because this is really like all I wanted and this is what I worked for, for so many years.”
King worked to become the team’s No. 1 runner this season. His personal record of 15:50, in September at the Don Bishop Invitational, broke the school’s 5K record of 15:56 set in 2012 by Matt Magee, who went on to run cross-country and track at Florida State University.
Having his name attached to a state title and a school record humbles King: “I mean, that’s kind of crazy to me, because I thought we’d never be able to reach that record that’s been held for a long time now. Our school’s relatively young, but the guy who formerly had it was like a stud, so we all like thought it wasn’t reachable.”
Besides King’s running prowess this season, Szponar said the senior leader served as the team’s quasi-athletic trainer, offering recovery advice and encouragement to fellow runners who went through various aches and pains.
King’s own personal recovery also was a team motivator, the coach said.
“He leads by example, which is the most important part,” Szponar said, also noting King has a 5.7 weighted GPA. “He worked back from (injuries) to become an even stronger and better runner by finding what worked with him, and the younger guys will see that, so when they’re complaining of the shin splints or they tweak an ankle or something like that they know that, ‘Hey, all is not lost.’”
The team’s motto this season was “DNA: Doubt Not Allowed.”
Since the start of summer workouts, the team’s mindset for each practice and race was to push hard and not make excuses, Szponar said.
“We never give up and we don’t doubt what we’re doing,” the coach said. “If we gave up, we definitely would not have been state champions this year after coming off two straight years of being runners-up. A lot of guys would lose their focus and their drive, but our guys, it spurred them to work even harder and motivated them to achieve what they achieved this year.”
King echoed those sentiments, noting the program’s success comes from “a winning culture.”
King explained: “We have a team mentality here at Steinbrenner, and we have younger guys that look up to the seniors and kind of try to replicate what they do, and we have an incredible coaching staff.”
He added: “Cross-country is such a unique sport in that what you put into it is what you get out of. Like, you don’t line up to the line and (are) naturally 2 minutes faster. It’s literally the hard work that we put into it, and our team worked really hard this year to achieve our goals.
“We had a lot of talent and we worked really hard, so I think the outcome that we got was definitely something that we were looking for, and it was really great.”
Leading into the state meet, Szponar said the team was confident they could win the whole thing. After all, the Warriors swept its district and regional meets, and had the needed depth across its varsity squad.
“The message was, ‘This is y’all’s to lose, and the only team that can beat you are yourselves…so all you have to do is do what you’re supposed to do and you get to hoist that trophy at the end of this meet.’”
That, they did.
Here’s a roundup of all local teams and individuals at the 2019 FHSAA cross-country state championships:
Steinbrenner (First place)
Josh King, senior (Sixth place— 15:52.32)
Blake Walker, senior (19th — 16:05.88)
Gabriel Lara, senior (32nd — 16:19.79)
Zachary Harrigan, junior (45th — 16:26.18)
Rama Jonnalgadda, senior (56th — 16:30.95)
Paul Foreman, senior (125th — 17:11.57)
Ethan Bhatt, junior (172nd — 17:37.16)
Wharton (26th place)
Jared Hamill, junior (10th — 15:55.30)
Jackson Blanchard, senior (111th — 17:05.96)
Thomas Walter, junior (159th — 17:27.20)
Alexander Olson, senior (208th — 18:16.55)
Amir Aboroomi, sophomore (232nd — 19:41.54)
Emanuel Camacho, sophomore (236th — 20:50.51)
Kevin Tran, junior (237th — 21.02.16)
Sebastian Hernandez, Wiregrass Ranch, junior (49th — 16:28.06)
Sunlake (Fifth place)
Colby Robbins, sophomore (19th — 16:29.59)
Gavin Kennedy, senior (44th — 16:51.30)
Drew Knobl, senior (49th — 16:55.06)
Alejandro Pena, freshman (60th — 17:06.29)
Kaden Knopp, senior (70th — 17:11.51)
Albert Lared, senior (82nd — 17:16.58)
Edward Scheid, senior (99th — 17:26.42)
Cypress Creek (20th place)
Justin Ludwig, sophomore (59th — 17:15.49)
John Roswell, junior (102nd — 17:58.38)
Devin Payne, sophomore (106th — 18:00.27)
Lathen Falk, sophomore (18:35.88)
Sebastian Lebron, junior (18:41.55)
Zachery Poekert, freshman (18:52.56)
Dominic Fonseca, junior (19:45.29)
Joseph Hoppe, Zephyrhills, senior (33rd — 16:54.85)
No local teams or individuals in 1A
Wharton (26th place)
Brooke Reif, sophomore (91st — 20:15. 10)
Nia Rivers, senior (128th — 20:46.80)
Alexandria Frye, sophomore (136th — 20:54.30)
Callie Zack, junior (152nd — 21:14.20)
Jinia Johnson, senior (173rd — 21:42.70)
Jessica Perez, senior (199th — 22:29.10)
Michelle Sullivan, senior (203rd — 22:34.40)
Steinbrenner (28th place)
Reyna Simpson, freshman (105th — 20:27.60)
Anna Breede, sophomore (139th — 20:56.60)
Anne Sullivan, senior (150th — 21:11.20)
Ayden Krueger, senior (151st — 21:11.20)
Kaitlyn Arko, senior (183rd — 21:56.60)
Nina Pardo, freshman (191st — 22:10.20)
Rebekah Hurwitz, senior (212th — 23:17.40)
Sunlake (Sixth place)
Liina Winborn, senior (Fourth place — 18:11.16)
Shannon Gordy, junior (25th— 19:39.29)
Ashley Spires, junior (56th — 20:16.99)
Emily Jenkins, senior (92nd — 20:49.42)
Emma Burleson, sophomore (113th — 21:22.12)
Annie Winborn, freshman (117th — 21:27.73)
Destiny Saltzman, senior (184th — 23:04.31)
No local teams or individuals in classes 1A and 2A
Published November 20, 2019