DADE CITY — All around Felix Soto, spectators wrapped in layers of clothing blew into their hands and sipped hot beverages. Yet the cold snap sending frigid breezes across east Pasco's countryside didn't keep his inner mercury from rising.
Which is to say, the Land O'Lakes senior cross country star was boiling.
"Something went wrong, but I don't know what," a frustrated Soto said moments after his 10th-place finish (15 minutes, 58 seconds) at Saturday morning's Class 3A meet. "I should've run my race instead of trying to keep up with (the lead pack)."
That immediate, emotional response — Soto said he let himself down — belied a banner day for the Gators as a team.
Behind Soto's medal-winning effort (his second in a row at the state meet) and other improbable performances, the Gators placed a program-best seventh to highlight the North Suncoast's showing in the eight-race event at Little Everglades Ranch.
The Gators set a preseason goal to have five runners finish in 17:30 or better at state — and they did just that. Those who didn't run a personal best came within seconds of it, coach Kris Keppel said, making note of junior Zack Lonsway's best-ever 17:15 (97th overall).
And that, Keppel said, is what Soto should find solace in.
"He'll be fine," Keppel said. "It's the team he needs to think about. If he's going to run in the future, he's got to think about the team. He's not always going to be the No. 1 man on his team."
Elsewhere, fledgling local dynasty Wiregrass Ranch capped its breakthrough year by placing eighth in the 2A race, five spots ahead of Nature Coast and seven ahead of Hernando. The Bulls, who finished a point behind Land O'Lakes at the Sunshine Athletic Conference meet, had five runners finish in 17:20 or better.
Nature Coast junior Bruce Federico led all local 2A runners, medaling with a 10th-place finish (16:06). The top 10 individual finishers earned medals.
"I just wanted to get out and kind of keep up with the leaders because I've never really been past my kick before, so I just kind of relied on that," Federico said. "(Jesuit senior) Connor (Revord) was pacing me for, like, the first mile and a half, and then he took off."