Maclay and “running” have practically become synonyms over the 20-plus years Gary Droze has coached the Marauders.
The school’s cross country and track teams have 20 combined boys and girls state titles across the two sports.
It might be surprising to learn then that it’s been 13 years since the Maclay boys cross country team has brought home a state championship.
It’s not destiny, but with four top runners also within seconds of each other, the Marauders have been pegged as the early favorite for an FHSAA Class 1A state title.
“We’ve been sitting back in 1A for multiple years now just waiting for a chance,” senior George Gwynn said. “This year, with transfers out of our rival schools it has opened it up big time. Our focus has turned to trying to improve our 5-8 spots and getting competition in there for that last scoring spot.”
Maclay won five consecutive titles from 1999-2002, while Patrick Swain won individual state titles from 2008-09. The current Marauders want to bring that kind of history back to consciousness.
“We’ve upped our mileage,” Gwynn said. “We’re trying to get our back guys to hang on as we go for our 8-, 9-, 10-milers. That can do magic for your times come cross country season.”
In track, the lead four each favored a different distance event. Now they’re having to be equally good and strong at three miles.
“Our coach does a great job at preparing us,” junior Jake Mazziotta said. “He’s one of the best coaches Florida has ever had. He knows what to do.”
Maclay doesn’t run many intervals to get faster for cross country. Distance is the key with built-in speed work each week for finding the right kick and bit of mental toughness over the final mile.
The rivalry between Maclay’s top four is fun according to sophomore James McClure.
“We’re all best friends,” McClure said. “We spend all of our time together.
“As far as rivalries go, we know how we’re all going to race. It’s being able to stick to your strategy and being able to make it work the best against the others.”
Clay Milford was the new kid on the block last year as an eighth grader that moved in from Georgia. Now he’s had a year to settle in and acclimate to terrain, teammates and training.
After not competing in the state meet on varsity last year, Milford find himself as a piece of the puzzle to the dreams of everyone else around him at Maclay.
“It’s completely different,” Milford said. “It’s nice to know this is my home now. Now we can be ready and focused on winning state this year.”
Maclay junior Caroline Willis, on this season:
“A few of our girls are recovering from injury so we’re just sitting in the shadows, waiting and recovering to maybe strike at pre-state and state. Hopefully in a few weeks I’ll have Katie (Whitworth) back next to me. It’s been tough without her. It’s strange to not have her there to push me. Hopefully it will be a breakout year for both me and Katie.”
Chiles girls moving up
Led by seniors Emma Tucker and Alexandra Wallace, who are coming off great junior track seasons, Chiles girls have a viable four to make a charge for the top of the 3A state podium. Tucker was last year’s All-Big Bend Runner of the Year for cross country, while Wallace captured the award for track.
Add in Ana Wallace and Jianni McDole, who worked on speed work in the offseason with North Florida Speed to get faster, and the Timerbwolves can only hope someone develops to form a strong five.
The Timberwolves have an addition of several strong freshman, which gives Chiles a chance to add another state title following a drought of four years.
Leon staying on course
Two-time cross country state champion Sukhi Khosla has left the area for Oklahoma State’s prolific program.
That would have left Leon without a horse to follow except Lions senior Adam Wallenfelsz intends to fill that role.
“In workouts we were used to repeats where he was out front and we would follow, but me and Matthew Cashin have been working together a lot and pushing each other,” Wallenfelsz said.
“We’re working together to push the whole team forward.”
Leon, which finished as state runner-up behind Chiles, has the same problems as the Timberwolves, losing several upper echelon runners.
The Lions lost six out of their top eight from last year, but Wallenfelsz got a win in his first race last weekend at the Cougar XC Challenge, while Cashin finished third.
“It’s a different dynamic,” Leon coach Andrew Wills said. “Adam is the team leader now and we’re working with some of the young guys to develop them. They’re doing good, but they’ve got a lot of work to do.”
There is a sense to prove, much in the same the Chiles’ boys feel, that Tallahassee running is stronger than people across the state give credit.
It’s reload, not rebuild for both Leon and Chiles.
“I don’t know if we have enough caliber to compete for a state championship,” Wills said, “but you never know.”