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Northside Christian students are accustomed to seeing their cross country team ranked in the polls.
The girls cross country team, that is. The Mustangs have won state team titles and are in contention for districts.
A state ranking in boys cross country? Those other Mustangs have never done that.
Northside Christian has discovered its boys team after the Mustangs won team titles at the St. Petersburg City meet and the Bay Conference meet for the first time. That helped Northside rocket to No. 5 in the Class A boys ranking by flrunners.com.
“We’ve always been overshadowed by the girls,” Mustangs No. 1 runner Mario Ojeda said. “Our goal is to get to where they are.”
It has been a remarkable transformation for Northside, which has a boys team comprised mostly of athletes from other sports.
Ojeda initially concentrated on football. Joe Chapman and Kyle Riffe are primarily basketball players.
They were encouraged to come out for cross country by Matthew Montanari, the team’s true runner.
“We were all focused on other things,” Ojeda said. “But we’ve had so much fun running.”
The Mustangs started to realize their potential in track, where they placed fifth in the 4x800 relay at last year’s state team.
Their ascension has continued the past two months in cross country with the school’s first team titles at major meets.
“We’ve been trying to make an impact,” Chapman said. “We want to keep it going the rest of the season.”
Now the focus is on the postseason, where Northside can win its first district and region titles.
“If you would have told us last year that we would be running this fast and winning this many titles, we would never believe it,” Ojeda said. “But we have a lot of confidence now. We want to keep it going.”
District cross country
At stake: The top eight boys and girls teams and the top 15 individuals qualify for regionals. The top 15 boys and girls get ribbons. District champion and runnerup trophies will be awarded.
Class 4A, District 4
When: Saturday. Girls at 8:30 a.m., boys at 9:10
Where: McIntosh Middle School, Saturday
Teams: Alonso, Chamberlain, Clearwater, Countryside, East Lake, Freedom, Gaither, Bradenton Manatee, North Port, Northeast, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park, Plant, Port Charlotte, Riverview, Sarasota Riverview, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Seminole, Tampa Bay Tech, Wharton
Outlook: Seminole’s boys have been the county’s dominant team but will have a tough time against some of the best Hillsborough programs. The Warhawks’ Chase Sutton will be in a battle with Chamberlain’s Max del Monte for top honors. St. Petersburg and Northeast will be in contention for a top-five finish among the girls.
Class 3A, District 5
When: Thursday. Girls at 10 a.m., boys at 10:30
Where: Lakewood Ranch, Bradenton
Teams: Bradenton Bayshore, Boca Ciega, Braden River, Dixie Hollins, Dunedin, Gibbs, Lakewood, Lakewood Ranch, Largo, Lemon Bay, Osceola, Palmetto, Tarpon Springs
Outlook: Dunedin’s boys have been one of the pleasant surprises and should advance to regionals. Osceola, led by Alexis Irwin, should be the county’s strongest girls team.
Class 2A, District 5
When: Thursday. Girls at 4 p.m., boys at 4:30
Where: Al Lopez Park, Tampa
Teams: Academy of the Holy Names, Auburndale, Avon Park, Berkeley Prep, Frostproof, Jesuit, Lake Wales, Lennard, Lakeland McKeel, Middleton, Mulberry, Robinson, Spoto, St. Petersburg Catholic, Strawberry Crest, Tampa Catholic, Tenoroc
Outlook: St. Petersburg Catholic’s boys won the Indian Rocks Christian Invitational this year and are the best hope to move on in this district.
Class A, District 5
When: Thursday. Girls at 9:15 a.m., boys at 10
Where: Taylor Park, Largo
Teams: Academy at the Lakes, Admiral Farragut, Bayshore Christian, Calvary Christian, Cambridge, Canterbury, Carrollwood Day, Clearwater Central Catholic, Indian Rocks Christian, Keswick Christian, Lakeland Christian, Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, Seffner Christian, Shorecrest, Tampa Bay Christian, Tampa Prep, Lake Wales Vanguard, Winter Haven All Saints’
Outlook: Northside’s boys are in position to win their first region title. The girls race is most likely a battle between Keswick Christian and Indian Rocks Christian.