Pine Crest's Julia Montgomery had a fabulous freshman year, becoming Broward County's first individual state cross country champion in more than a decade last fall.
Her rise and first-place finish at the Class 2A state meet in Tallahassee were surprising, but she won't sneak up on anyone this year as she returns with the county's top time (17:52) following a season in which she was ranked the nation's 15th best freshman by MileSplit.com.
"With that target on my back this year, a lot more people are going to be looking at me," Montgomery said, adding she hopes to consistently run in the low 18s and achieve a new personal-best time. "I definitely have to work a lot harder this year and push myself more than I ever have before. The biggest thing for me is to make sure I stay into it, and I'm always trying my best."
A second state individual title, Montgomery said, "would mean so much to me. It would really be a huge deal."
Montgomery's strongest challenge in trying to repeat should come from former American Heritage rival Daesha Rogers, who transferred to Miami Jackson this summer. Rogers beat Montgomery at the districts and regionals last year, but finished third at states following a second-place finish in 2011.
Montgomery leads a strong, deep group of girls runners in the county. Fellow sophomore and reigning Broward Girls Runner of the Year Alexa Cruz finished second at last year's 4A state meet (18:14) to lead a pack of five Raiders – including Christina Kalis, Brianna Rischar, Marina Braynon-Moore, and Meg Schloss -- in the top 18, all of whom are back this year after capturing the first state title in program history.
St. Thomas' boys team, coming off its best showing at the state meet (third) in program history, are loaded again with Matthew Butler, Alexander Haugen and Antony Cruz leading the way.
Kat MacNeal became the first Cypress Bay runner in four years to medal at states in 2012. She returns for her senior season hoping to improve on that seventh-place finish (18:49).
Reigning Broward boys runner of the year, Coral Glades' Anthony Deleva, finished eighth at last year's 4A state meet (15:55) after a personal-record time (15:48) in winning regionals.
Penaranda twin brothers, Carlos and Daniel, stormed onto the scene in their first year running cross country last fall. With their return, and senior Andrew Iglesias, who missed much of last season due to injuries after an eighth-place finish at states in 2011 following county and district titles, Pines Charter should be the county's second-best team behind St. Thomas.
51– The total for American Heritage's top three girls finishers at last year's 2A state meet, all of whom are gone. Rogers (3rd) and Calyope Ortega (31st), now at Miami Lady of Lourdes, transferred, and Rachelle Alexander (17th) graduated.
Runners to watch
GIRLS: Marianne Aguilar, Archbishop McCarthy, Sr.; Sara Bowden, Archbishop McCarthy, Jr.; Marina Braynon-Moore, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; Alexa Cruz, St. Thomas Aquinas, So.; Jade Fungquee, Monarch, Sr.; Katherine Jovanovic, Pine Crest, Fr.; Christina Kalis, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; Lily Kloepfer, St. Thomas Aquinas, So.; Kat MacNeal, Cypress Bay, Sr.; Julia Montgomery, Pine Crest, So.; Brianna Rischar, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.; Meg Schloss, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.; Nicole Taggart, Calvary Christian, Fr.; Mahlet Yared, Pine Crest, Jr.;
BOYS: Brandon Bejarano, Westminster Academy, Sr.; Matthew Butler, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; Jonathan Buytenhuys, Douglas, Jr.; Antony Cruz, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; Gabriel Darosa, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; Anthony Deleva, Coral Glades, Sr.; John Decker, Pine Crest, Sr.; Alexander Haugen, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.; Andrew Iglesias, Pembroke Pines Charter, Sr.; Jack Klumpp, North Broward Prep, Sr.; Joel Lacy, South Plantation, So.; Carlos Penaranda, Pembroke Pines Charter, Jr.; Daniel Penaranda, Pembroke Pines Charter, Jr.; Bryce Statham, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.
Oct. 18 – BCAA county championship (Markham Park); Oct. 21-26 – Districts; Oct. 31-Nov. 2 – Regionals; Nov. 9 -- FHSAA Cross Country Finals (Tallahassee)
GIRLS: St. Thomas Aquinas (4A), Estero (3A), Jacksonville Bolles (2A), Gainesville Oak Hall (1A)
BOYS: Orlando Colonial (4A), Miami Belen Jesuit (3A), Jacksonville Bishop Kenny (2A), Melbourne Holy Trinity (1A)Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun