With a healthy and talent-laden lineup, Pine Crest girls’ cross country team is ready to challenge for a state Class 2A title – again.
After four years as state runner-up to Jacksonville Bolles, the Panthers would like to go one step further.
Freshman Tsion Yared, the 2014 state champion as a seventh grader, and her sister Mahdere Yared, an eighth grader, return to the lineup after being sidelined with injuries before the post-season.
Tsion Yared is ranked the state’s top freshman with a time of 18:17.80 turned in at the Sept. 25 flarunners.com Invitational where she finished third.
“It feels good to be healthy again,” said the 5-foot-2, 90-pound Tsion Yared. “I feel like where I was before. I couldn’t get mad about being injured, that wasn’t going to help me get better. I worked to get back to where I was before. It took a lot of work but I am happy to be back.”
Seniors Simone Vreeland and Jamie Zipper lead a young, but talented team. In addition to the Yared sisters, freshmen Amanda Schwartz, Emily Faulhaber and Maya Beleznay round out the top seven. Beleznay is making her debut for the Panthers after transferring from St. Andrew’s.
Despite injuries, the Panthers had an outstanding 2015 season. The Panthers were undefeated (5-0) and won district and region titles for the fourth year in a row.
“We hope this is the year,” said Pine Crest coach Paul Baur. “Bolles is a good team and has a lot of depth. They had 30 girls at the Brevard Distance Running Camp we were at. They are not going anywhere. We have kids with a lot of talent who work hard.
“The success of our team and program has attracted a lot of people interested in wanting to be a part of. The addition of Maya really helps. She seems like a great fit academically.
“Last year we thought was our year but it wasn’t meant to be. If we keep everybody healthy we will be in the hunt.”
What impressed Baur the most about last year’s team is when the Yared sisters were injured the team didn’t panic.
“We are definitely happy with how we did last year,” Baur said. “A lot of things happened, we didn’t have as much firepower. The other girls stepped up. They were super excited to still finish state runner-up without the Yareds. Only two teams make it on the podium and we have done that four years in a row.”
The Panthers are running six invitationals, including their own Sept. 22 invitational at Mills Pond Park in Fort Lauderdale before the Oct. 7-8 Pre-State Invitational in Tallahassee. Baur stressed that the team’s top runners may not run every meet.
“Some of the meets like King of the Hill and Spanish River we may not run our varsity girls,” Baur said. “You get out there and run a race, it really takes a lot out of you. We are looking for a balance. The new kids need to race. With our varsity girls we want to be cautious. They have the experience. We want to build toward the post-season with quality.”
St. Thomas Aquinas was expected to have a top Class 4A team until its top runner quit and another runner decided to play lacrosse. The Raiders have three returning runners in the 20s.
“We are a young up-and-coming squad,” St. Thomas coach Trish Butler said.
Junior Bridget Alex, who placed fifth in the 1600 meters (5:13.32), will make her cross country debut.
“We are going to be off everybody’s radar for a while,” Butler said. “We are in a tough region with Lourdes. We are going to have some personal challenges. We are going to see a bunch of unknowns in the top five.”
North Broward Prep junior Katie Pinnell, sophomore Daishon Spann of Boyd Anderson and Douglas sophomore Halie Murphy return among top Broward runners.
Pinnell ran a season-best 19:39, won the District 14-2A title, was sixth at regions and 20th at states. Teammate Katie Bishop will join Pinell as a one-two punch. The junior’s best time was 20:23.
Spann ran her best time of 20:13 at the State 3A meet where she finished in the Top 50 in her first year of running cross country. She was a District 15-3A runner-up and 13th at regions.
Murphy ran 20:22 as a freshman last season for Douglas. Senior teammate Emilia Thom returns with a best time of 20:58. Monarch junior Nicole McConnell returns with a 20:18 best time.
BROWARD GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY
ATHLETES TO WATCH
Aimee Becker, Cooper City; Maya Beleznay, Pine Crest; Katie Bishop, North Broward Prep; Emily Faulhaber, Pine Crest; Gillian Gulley, Cardinal Gibbons; Dana Hernandez, North Broward Prep; Nicole McConnell, Monarch; Halie Murphy, Douglas; Katie Pinnell, North Broward Prep; Alexa Rosa, St. Thomas Aquinas; Amanda Schwartz, Pine Crest; Daishon Spann, Boyd Anderson; Simone Vreeland, Pine Crest; Sarah Walker, Pine Crest; Mahdere Yared Pine Crest; Tsion Yared, Pine Crest; Jamie Zipper, Pine Crest; Emilia Thom, Douglas.
DEFENDING STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 4A: St. Thomas Aquinas (boys), Winter Park (girls)
Class 3A: Creekside (boys), Lawton Chiles (girls)
Class 2A: Trinity Prep (boys), Bolles (girls)
Class 1A: Father Lopez (boys), Circle Christian (girls)
Sept. 3, Park Vista Cobra Country Invitational
Sept. 3, Estero DDD Invitational
Sept. 9, King of the Hill, Miami
Sept. 10, Titusville Astronaut Invite
Sept. 17, 34th Spanish River Invitational
Sept. 22, Pine Crest Invitational, Mills Pond Park
Sept. 23, Junior Orange Bowl Invitational, Larry & Penny Thompson Park
Sept. 24, Mountain Dew Invitational, Gainesville
Sept. 29, Westminster Christian Warrior Invite, Coral Reef Park
Sept. 30-Oct. 1, Flrunners.com Invite 16, Titusville
Oct. 7, 305 Classic, Larry & Penny Thompson Park
Oct. 7-8, Disney XC Classic, Kissimmee
Oct. 8, FSU Pre-State Invite
Oct. 13, BCAA Championships, Markham Park
Oct. 14, GMAC Championship, Larry & Penny Thompson Park
Oct. 17-22, District meets
Oct. 27-29, Region meets
Nov. 5, State meet, Apalachee Regional Park, Tallahassee
Nov. 12, USATF Junior Olympic XC Championship, Lakeland
Nov. 19, National Youth Championships, Evansville, Ind.
Nov. 19, FACA Senior All-Star Classic, Tallahassee
Dec. 3, AAU National Championships, Oakville, Ala.
Dec. 10, Foot Locker Nationals, San Diego