Saturday, December 1, 2018
Lynn Ramsey - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Belen Jesuit always preaches running together as a team, but a youth movement greeted the Wolverines this year, as Javier Vento and Adam Magoulas led the way to their 10th state championship.
The Wolverines finished five runners within the top 17 to repeat as Class 3A state boys cross-country champions Nov. 10 at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. The Wolverines beat Tallahassee Chiles again, only in more dominant fashion. After winning 57-111 last year, Belen Jesuit posted 34 points to Chiles’ 170. (Cross-country team results are based on finish, with lowest team score winning.)
“The key was all the hard training we did every day and the motivation of the feeling we had last year when we won states,” said Magoulas, a freshman who finished second this year after running at states last year as an eighth-grader. “We wanted that again.”
Belen Jesuit’s 10th title tied Largo for most in state history. Belen Jesuit coach Frankie Ruiz, in his 17th season, credits the continuity, depth and camaraderie of his program for that success. He said this year’s 50-runner roster is the largest team he’s coached, creating challenges of traveling with that many. But it paid off.
“I’ve had teams with upper 30s, but never 50 guys,” Ruiz said. “We are considerably deep. I’m excited by that depth.”
YOUNGSTERS LEAD THE PACK
Just like last year, when the Wolverines won with only one senior, youth rose to the top with sophomore Javier Vento and freshman Magoulas leading the way. Vento won the race with a 15-minute, 39.98-second time over the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile course), with Magoulas second in 15:41.99.
Vento became Belen Jesuit’s fifth individual champion by edging out Magoulas and Seffner Armwood’s Jake Turner. Vento is Belen Jesuit’s first individual state champion since Elliot Clemente won the 2011 3A title. Only Tallahassee Leon (nine), Jacksonville Bishop Kenny (eight) and Longwood Lyman (six) have more individual champions.
“I was light-headed, but (the lead pack) started sprinting. I decided to go with them,” said Vento of the finish. “The crowd and the noise got me fired up and ready to race to sprint as hard as I can. I was able to finish with Adam. It was great.”
Ruiz said Vento had hidden in the lead pack behind Magoulas and Turner. But when Magoulas and Turner broke free with 300 meters left, Vento joined the duel.
Magoulas admitted he didn’t know Vento was there until the 2-mile mark. That “helped me a lot,” Magoulas said. “I couldn’t have done what I did if I didn’t know he was there.”
He said he and Vento had a plan to stay with the lead pack until about the 2.9-mile mark, which was the base of a big hill. The two Wolverines climbed with the lead pack, then broke loose at the top of the hill with Turner following.
“I’d never take anything away from the Armwood kid; he’s a great athlete,” Ruiz said. “But it’s hard when you’re battling two guys from the same team in the straightaway.”
Ruiz said this season Vento climbed from outside the top 7 last year. He said Vento had a great track season but had to overcome an injury to his sacroiliac joint (SI) – a joint that according to Vento connects the lower back to the glutes; the injury was aggravated every step. Vento said he took two weeks off to heal. Then he worked twice as hard to catch up with his teammates, and he maintained that work ethic once he caught them.
CROSS COUNTRY IS A TEAM RACE
Belen won this championship by getting all five scoring runners ahead of Chiles’ leader. All the returning Wolverines also improved their time over last year. Senior Lucas de la Hoz finished 10th overall with 16:14.59, with sophomore Diego Gomez 11th in 16:16.96. Senior Sebastian Roa closed out the scoring, finishing 17th in 16:24.61, just head of Chiles leader Connor Phillips.
Belen Jesuit seniors Giancarlo Benitez and Cesar Aguzzi were 19th and 20th. Ruiz said that one sign of his seniors’ progress is that they’re talking about running cross country for college teams. He credited his team’s improved times to the Wolverines’ increase in workouts, camaraderie and depth. He said they trained together all season.
That unity played itself out in the race, when at the first mile of the course the entire team was within eight seconds of each other. Vento said the Wolverines ran in three strong packs throughout the race.
Ruiz said the entire team finished within 45 seconds – or within eyesight – of each other. “That slammed the door shut to other teams,” he said.
FUTURE IS NOW
Belen Jesuit’s runners further tested how far they’ve come at the Nike Cross Country Regionals in Cary, North Carolina, Nov. 24. Although they did not place high enough as a team to advance to the Nike Cross Country Nationals in Portland, Oregon – only the top two teams advance – they did take fifth place. Magoulas finished 13th overall in the championship final in 15:34.2. Vento finished in the top 40 in 15:56.4. Sophomore Michael Sanchez grabbed a victory in the Rising Stars race in 16:40.1, while teammate Aiden Villasuso was 12th in 17:23.2.
Magoulas said Ruiz doesn’t take teams to that type of race just for fun. “We’re going because we have a chance.”
More importantly, Ruiz wants the Wolverines thinking beyond the state meet – especially Roa, de la Hoz and Benitez, who are considering running in college. “For the seniors on the team, it’s their last meet to show what they’re made of. It’s a great course. You never want (the team) to get ahead of themselves, but you want them to look past the state meet.”
Then there’s next year – that potential 11th title in the 57th year of the school.
“I hate to believe in cycles. I don’t necessarily say I have down years,” Ruiz said. “That term rebuilding is used often in sports. I have a few guys constantly building, and that should refresh things a bit. I think the mark of a good program is one always in the hunt.”
Dec. 3, 2018: This article has been updated with individual times and results from the Nike Cross Country Regionals in North Carolina.