LAND O'LAKES — As he enters the figurative final stretch of his quest for that elusive state championship, Felix Soto's mind-set is more of determination than obsession. A Land O'Lakes senior, Soto caps one of the North Suncoast's most decorated distance-running careers — one chock full of region, district and conference crowns — at Friday's Class 3A state track and field meet. And if his legs are as fresh as his perspective, the USF signee will have an excellent shot at his first state title. "If I don't get it, it will be a disappointment to me, but only for a day," said Soto, who will run in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races. "And then I can reflect on everything I did and make a positive out of that." When Soto's reflection commences, it could last a while. Few local runners have accomplished more. The following is a recap of Soto's four-year run.
Soto says it's the regional cross country title he won in south Lakeland as a sophomore, when he formally stepped out of the shadow of ex-Gator Steven Bell, who also won a few titles. "I actually surprised myself going out there and winning that race," said Soto, the only runner in the field to eclipse 17 minutes. "So from there on I got in the back of my head that I've got to go and push myself, and I kept going and kept going. It helped me throughout the rest of the years that I've been running."
Race he'd like to have back
The 2008 region cross country championships at Polk Community College in Winter Haven. On an uneven trail on a muggy morning, Soto, a two-time region champ, finished nearly six seconds behind Plant's Trenor Wilkins. "I wanted that so bad but … if I could take it back I would go there and bust my butt to try to win it," Soto said.
It is believed Soto will graduate with more Sunshine Athletic Conference titles (team and individual) than any athlete in Pasco County history. Our unofficial tally is 20. Here's the breakdown:
3 cross country titles
9 track titles (two in the 800, three each in the 1,600 and 3,200, one in the 4x800 relay)
2 soccer titles
2 track titles
4 cross country titles
Soto near, yet Soto far
The closest Soto has come to winning a state title was his sixth-place finish (16:04) at the Class 3A cross country championships in Dade City in 2007. He has three top-10 finishes at the state track meet.
Felix at his fleetest
Soto's career personal-best times in his three primary races:
1,600 meters: 4:25.01 (at last week's Region 2 meet)
3,200 meters: 9:42.20 (at UT Distance Carnival on April 11)
Cross country (5,000 meters): 15
Looking ahead to Friday
Physically, Soto said he feels great entering his final prep track meet. Statistically, the outlook is nearly as bright. His winning regional time in the 1,600 (4:25.01) was the best of the state's four region champions, and his time in the 3,200 (9:47.55) was second best. "My whole body just gave out on me last year (at the state meet), and I haven't had the race where I was completely fresh where I could go out there and do my thing," Soto said. "And I think this year is going to be the year because I'm peaking at the right time and I hope that everything comes together."