WESLEY CHAPEL — Sometime around the evening rush hour, commuters traveling past The Shops at Wiregrass and looking across the street into the vast emptiness of the surrounding Florida farmland can often spot a herd of Bulls running at breakneck speed over the pasture land.
They travel great distances in packs, a weekday routine broken only by the occasional pit stop for water.
Call it the Running of the Bulls, Wesley Chapel style.
The Wiregrass Ranch boys and girls cross country teams have established themselves as the perennial powers of Pasco. Last season, just the fourth in the program’s history, both teams won district and region titles and placed sixth at the Class 3A state meet.
In 2010, both teams are hoping to, at worst, duplicate their success from a year ago and, at best, climb higher in the state rankings, starting with Thursday’s Class 3A, District 3 meet at McKethan Lake in Brooksville.
So how can a startup program become dominant in such a short time? The answer, Wiregrass Ranch girls coach Don Howard will tell you, lies in the size of the herd.
“Without a doubt, our depth is the key to our success,” Howard said. “Both the boys and girls teams have been blessed. We’re seven deep on both sides.”
Seven deep as in the number of runners that can realistically earn a top-20 finish in any meet. That’s not including the dozens of runners behind that top seven, pushing the frontrunners to their limits on a daily basis.
At the Sunshine Athletic Conference meet 10 days ago, seven of Howard’s girls placed in the top 10 for a runaway Bulls victory. The situation was similar in the boys competition, where six runners, paced by Josh Reilly’s time of 16 minutes, six seconds, earned a spot in the top 10.
Reilly is one of four seniors — Ryan Pulsifer, Logan Selzer and Ian Cassette are the others — who has been with coach Chris Loth all four years of his tenure. That core group’s ability to find success early on established Wiregrass Ranch as a destination school for young running phenoms.
“I think others wanted to try and be a part of that success,” Loth said. “It just worked out well. We had good karma that first year, and, from there, it’s just kind of morphed into this monster.”
With the playoff phase of the season here, Loth said his runners are eager to leave a lasting legacy at Wiregrass Ranch.
“I really can’t measure the motivation these kids have to succeed. They’re very confident,” he said. “They’ve really sacrificed a lot these four years. These kids wake up early to run. They give up their weekends and Friday nights. They’ve run several thousand miles. They’ve put in all the work they need to, now it’s time to buckle down.”
Likewise for the Bulls girls, who boast four seniors — Ariel Grey, Taylor Hixson, Kelsey Sturman and Marissa Tomei — in the top eight and have been paced all season by the steady performances of Grey and sophomore Nikita Shah, second overall at districts a year ago.
“Locally, I think our teams definitely left a mark on Pasco County and on the North Suncoast,” Loth said. “I think they want to earn respect on the state level as well.”
Class 3A, District 3
When/where: Thursday. McKethan Lake, Brooksville. Girls start at 3:45; boys at 4:15.
Teams: Belleview, Central, Citrus, Dunnellon, Gulf, Hudson, Lake Weir, Land O’Lakes, Lecanto, Leesburg, Mitchell, Nature Coast, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Springstead, Sunlake, Wiregrass Ranch, Zephyrhills
Defending champions: Wiregrass Ranch girls and boys
Class 2A, District 3
When/where: Thursday. Withlacoochee River Park, Dade City. Girls start at 4; boys at 4:30
Teams: Anclote, Crystal River, Eustis, Fivay, Hernando, Interlachen, Keystone Heights, Mount Dora, Pasco, Santa Fe, Tavares, Trinity Catholic, Umatilla, Wesley Chapel
Defending champions: Crystal River girls and boys
Class A, District 5
When/where: Thursday. Taylor Park, Largo. Girls start at 9:15, boys at 10.
Teams: Academy at the Lakes, Admiral Farragut, All Saints’, Bayshore Christian, Calvary Christian, Cambridge, Canterbury, Carrollwood Day, Clearwater Central Catholic, Indian Rocks Christian, Keswick Christian, Lakeland Christian, Northside Christian, Santa Fe Christian, Seffner Christian, Shorecrest, Tampa Bay Christian, Tampa Prep, Vanguard, Walker Memorial Junior
Defending champions: Keswick Christian girls, Shorecrest boys