TAMPA -- For the confounded race clerks and timers frequently forced to type the last name of Chamberlain’s top runner, we graciously offer the following guide.
It’s Max del Monte -- a two-word surname with a lowercase ‘d’ and capital ‘M.’
“I know (the last name) is coming from Italian roots, but my dad (Angel) was born in Cuba,” del Monte said. “I don’t know where the connection is.”
Mercifullly, the other noun describing this home-schooled junior these days is much easier to ingest, and universally agreed upon.
It’s state title contender -- with a capital ‘C’ if you so choose.
For proof, look no farther than the past two weekends. Two Saturdays ago at the flrunners.com Invitational 11 in Titusville, the wiry Chief (6-foot, 135 pounds) finished third in the Boys Race of Champions in a personal-best time (15:03.71).
A week later, on a wooded course in brilliantly cool Panhandle weather, he won the FSU Invitational (15:36.78).
Saturday morning at Dade City’s Little Everglades Ranch, site of next month’s state championships, a third sub-16-minute effort is likely. del Monte will be among the favorites in the Elite Boys Race at the Pre-State Invitational.
“I love that course,” said del Monte, 17th on the hilly Little Everglades course at last fall’s Class 4A state meet.
“It’s a challenging course but you definitely have to run it smart. That first hill (which also represents the final stretch), you have to run it three times. It’s not the steepest hill but it can slowly drag the energy out of you.”
To tackle such challenges, del Monte has complemented his normal six-day-a-week training schedule with core exercises heavy on ab crunches, push-ups and leg lifts.
Coach Bill Strack, who also notes del Monte is putting in more miles than ever before, implemented the core work during the 2010 track preseason and has seen a significant decrease in injuries on his team.
Perhaps not coincidentally, del Monte’s time at the flrunners.com race was more than a minute better than his effort on the same course last season.
“For me, honestly, pretty much any day if I’m not hurting or going through some kind of excruciating pain, I’m not doing something right,” he said.
Now, he appears painfully close to challenging 4A rivals Ryan Pickering of Greenacres John I. Leonard and Miami Columbus senior Armando Del Valle for a state crown. Pickering finished second in Titusville, eight seconds ahead of del Monte.
“I’m pretty certain Max can run with them and I think a lot of it has to do with his growing confidence,” Strack said. “I think he has the speed and strength; as he develops more confidence, either this weekend or down the road, I think he’s going to be able to (challenge them).”
Pre-state schedule: The Pre-State Invitational, featuring eight varsity races over two days, begins Friday at 4 p.m., with the first varsity event at 5:30. Admission is $5 per person (children 6 and under are free); parking is $7 per vehicle.
More than 100 schools are expected to compete. Highlighting the event will be Saturday morning’s boys and girls elite races, featuring the state’s best male and female runners. The girls run at 7:30, followed by the boys at 7:50.
Boys Top Five
1. Max del Monte, Chamberlain
Won last weekend’s FSU Invitational (15:36.78) against a solid statewide field
2. Jake Covington, Chamberlain
Idle last weekend, Covington could shine at Saturday’s Pre-State Invitational
3. Bo Nalsen, Plant
Sub-16-minute senior also could make noise Saturday at pre-states
4. Blake Lopez, Jesuit
Shaping up as the Class 2A, District 5 favorite
5. Michael Babinec, Riverview
Won Tuesday’s Lennard Invitational in a personal-best time (16:01)
Girls Top Five
1. Grace VanDeGrift, Durant
County’s top female should be well-rested for the Little Everglades course
2. Caroline Gibson, Plant
Hasn’t raced since posting a personal-best (19:03.77) at flrunners.com Invitational
3. Julia Rodriguez, Plant
Saturday’s Pre-State Invitational will be her first race in more than three weeks
4. Sabrina Whiting, Seffner Christian
Ran solid time (19:24) on daunting course to win Millard Shumate Invitational
5. Colleen Doherty, Academy of the Holy Names
Coming off a personal-best 19:30 at flrunners.com Invitational