Sharks confront ultimate test of wills: Saturday’s FHSAA Class 2A State Finals in Tallahassee

NCT senior Lenny Iacopelli’s last race will be Saturday’s 8:45 a.m. Class 2A State Finals in Tallahassee. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
NCT senior Emily Escamilla (168) will run her final prep race beginning at 7:45 a.m. Saturday during the Class 2A State Finals at Apalachee Regional Park in Leon County. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

CROSS COUNTRY

Six male and six

female NCT runners

seek to tame ‘Heart Break Hill’

By TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

In long distance running circles the centerpiece of the FHSAA Cross Country State Finals being contested Saturday morning at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee is “Heart Break Hill.”

It’s one of the main reasons, Florida State University selected the course for an NCAA litmus test.

The final 12 Hernando County cross country runners – six boys and six girls from Nature Coast Technical – will be taken to task.

The 44th Class 2A girls race is set for 7:45 a.m. in Leon County. The 71st 2A boys race will follow at 8:45 a.m.

Lady Sharks focus on one mission

NCT’s female runners will include senior Emily Escamilla, juniors Keira Barbee and Aliyah Dipalma, sophomore Abigail Ball and freshmen Mia DeRonda and Isabel Dahmer.

For each Brooksville runner this will be their first state test.

NCT left on Friday morning and practiced on the course in the afternoon in hopes of getting a better feel prior to Saturday’s elite meet.

Mia DeRonda
Emily Escamilla

The county’s top four ranked runners include DeRonda, Escamilla, Dipalma and Barbee.

Dahmer arrives ranked 13th while Ball is ranked 27th.

Fourth-year NCT mentor Eric Milholland revealed his team arrives seeded either 19th or 20th depending on who begins at the starting line.

Though the Sharks won three straights meets at mid-season, they’ve been solved by nemesis Inverness-Citrus in each of its last two meets – districts and regionals.

Milholland has one goal for his troops: beat Citrus.

Eric Milholland

“More than anything else, I’ll be more satisfied if we beat Citrus on Saturday,” explained Milholland, who the Lady Sharks to 13th and 14th state finishes, out of 24 teams, in 2012-13.

“We’ve got one more chance for each of the girls to set a new PR (personal record) and I believe we can do that with this type of competition.”

The key for Sharks, according to Milholland, is for DeRonda and Escamilla to return to the front of the pack.

“At regionals (at Port Orange-Atlantic), Aliyah, Keira and Isabel all did their jobs. We need our front runners to be up front,” specified Milholland. “We’re going there early to show how wide the starting area is and where the girls should be at 1-mile, 2-mile and 3-mile markers,” added Milholland.

As far as race tactics, “Everyone has to contribute,” said Milholland. “I‘m not putting any more pressure on these kids.”

On whether the early morning temps will help or hinder, “Running early bodes well for us. As a runner, we all like the cooler weather.”

The Lady Sharks, who start only one senior, are attempting to eclipse its best-ever 13th-place finish of 2012 along the identical 3.1-mile layout.

NCT boys: A look to the future?

For the eighth time in 15 seasons, the male Sharks have reached its main goal: states.

Furthermore, none of the seven Sharks to compete at this level in 2014 have returned.

Lenny Iacopelli

NCT will be represented by state newbies including: seniors Lenny Iacopelli and Mason Orellana, junior Harrison Ryczek, sophomores Ian Escamilla, Gage Sugg and Vicente Maglia.

The Sharks will compete minus junior Christian Lindo, the team’s No. 4 runner, who could not make the trip due to a family commitment.

Ian Escamilla

In the latest Hernando County rankings, Escamilla is ranked second overall fastest to Hernando High junior Ross Stalcup while Iacopelli and Ryczek are ranked 4-5.

Orellana arrives ranked 12th, Sugg is 17th and Maglia is 22nd.

“It’ll be interesting on how we do,” shared first-year NCT mentor Zach Hall. “We were seeded 14th with Lindo. Now, we’re relying on Gage. I don’t think we have much of shot without our fourth-best runner.”

Hall, who understands he’ll begin next season without either Iacopelli or Orellana, eyes this meet as a teaching moment.

Zach Hall

“I’m selling this race as a learning experience,” defined Coach Hall. “I plan on being here again next year. We practiced doing time trials this week to work on our speed. We’ve gotta run this course correctly.”

On the course layout, “It’s a fast 5K,” noted Hall. “FSU runners did a great job of breaking down Heart Break Hill. I’m looking at this as doable. I expect to see our guys come close, if not set PRs. After you get to the top of the hill, it’s a long down hill.”

“Being down a runner, I’m not really looking at this race in a team perspective, but rather I want to see us to be hungry and passing people. For the seniors, like Lenny and Mason, this is their last rodeo and it’s time for them to shine.”

As far as the 8:45 start, “I love anticipated cooler weather,” said Hall. “Honestly, I think our guys are ready. This has been a great group. Each guy has improved from last year as much three minutes. These guys are all bought in.”

AT A GLANCE

WHAT – FHSAA’s 71st annual Class 2A Boys Cross Country State Finals.

WHO – Twenty-four teams are expected to compete including Nature Coast Technical.

WHERE – Tallahassee-Apalachee Regional Park.

WHEN – 7:55 a.m. (girls), 8:45 a.m. (boys) Saturday, Nov. 11.

AT STAKE – State championship. Trophies awarded to the top two teams while medallions are presented to the top 10 individual placers.

WHAT – FHSAA’s 44th annual Class 2A Girls Cross Country State Finals.

WHO – Twenty-four teams are expected to compete including Nature Coast Technical.

WHERE – Tallahassee-Apalachee Regional Park.

WHEN – 7:45 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 11.

AT STAKE – State championship. Trophies awarded to the top two teams while medallions are presented to the top 10 individual placers.

Nature Coast Technical Boys Cross Country

Team State Results (2003-16/14 Seasons)

Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Nature Coast Technical Sharks
 

YR.

 

COACH

 

PL.YR

2007

Merjanian, Armen

14th

2008

Merjanian, Armen

13th

2010

Milholland, Eric

20th

2011

Milholland, Eric

5th

2012

Milholland, Eric

13th

2013

Milholland, Eric

22nd

2014

Milholland, Eric

20th

Nature Coast Technical Girls Cross Country

Team State Results (2003-16/14 Seasons)

Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Nature Coast Technical Sharks
 

YR.

 

COACH

 

PL.YR

2012

Milholland, Eric

13th

2013

Milholland, Eric

14th

 

 

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