TAMPA — They reside on the west side of the Al Lopez Sports Complex. In a sense, they’re pennants in a petrified state, waist-high marble headstones commemorating Jesuit High’s five state cross country titles.
The newest one just turned 8. In Tiger terms, that might constitute a drought.
Roughly four dozen kids are laboring to erect another one.
“We’ve got a lot of young talent coming up,” said coach Greg Maurin, who reported 49 in his program — the most of his seven-season tenure — at one point in late August. “And we’ve got lots of kids coming out, so we’re really not sure of what all we have.”
Or are they? Nestled among those 49 are five of the team’s top seven finishers at last season’s Class 2A state meet, where Jesuit finished third. Senior Hunter Revord, 19th at the state meet, represents the only significant loss, having opted for lacrosse.
“I think this year we definitely will be really competitive for a state (title),” said No. 1 runner Tim O’Loughlin, third at state in 2012.
“Without Hunter, we still have the same team as last year. …In fact, we’re better than last year.”
Once September segues into October, Maurin’s top five all could be eclipsing 17 minutes for 5 kilometers. Depending on how well the youngsters progress, even more could join that sub-17 quintet.
Barring injury, such times would propel Jesuit into a state title conversation, though Jacksonville Bishop Kenny and Immokalee — the teams that finished ahead of Jesuit last season — remain strong.
Setting the pace, clearly, is O’Loughlin, a 5-foot-7, 140-pound senior equipped with a tenacious race mentality and military pedigree.
The son of a retired Coast Guard officer and grandson of a Vietnam veteran, he aspires to ultimately enroll in a service academy. His time at last fall’s state meet (16:06) was a personal best.
“On game day especially, he’s a fierce competitor,” Maurin said. “We can always count on him to commit. No matter how bad he’s hurt, he’s always going to give it all he’s got. …He never takes an easy day when it comes to racing. He always delivers.”
On his heels are a handful of runners who have relied more on sweat equity than a natural stride to reach their current level.
Case in point: senior Phillip “Hurricane” Robbins, who failed to break 27 minutes in his first race as a freshman, but ran a 16:59 at the 2012 state meet. He’s being pushed daily by classmate Danny Alvarez and junior Tyler Pratt, both top-75 state placers last year.
“Last year our goal was to finish in the top five, and this year I certainly want to repeat that or do better,” Maurin said. “Definitely finish in the top five if not get the title. …It’s early yet, but we’re working on it.”
More intriguing runners/teams
Max Borland, Berkeley Prep: The Bucs junior, 18th at last season’s Class 2A state meet, shapes up as a bona fide medal contender this fall. Coach Eileen Daly says junior Vasili Vasiloudes is on Borland’s heels.
James Harkless, Nature Coast: His Sharks were district champs last year but lost three of their top four runners. The lone exception is Harkless, who placed 71st at state as a junior.
Land O’Lakes: The Gators should again be one of the North Suncoast’s top teams. Reigning conference champ and North Suncoast runner of the year Travis Nichols won the Holloway Park Jamboree over the weekend, and Tyler Stahl finished in the top 10 at state in the 1600 and 3200 as a junior last spring. Keep an eye on Jake Poore, an all-North Suncoast runner last fall.
Promotion at Plant: Plant assistant Bryan Garcia, eighth at the 2A meet in 2009 as a Robinson senior, was hired to replace ultra-successful Plant coach Mike Boza, who retired. Garcia’s first order: replenishing a lineup that graduated four of its top five runners.
Private powers: Pinellas County is again stocked with strong runners at the private school level. Besides Shorecrest’s duo of Ross Porter (14th) and Luke Peterson (32nd) — who each finished in the top 35 at last year’s state meet — there are other tandems who should be in the mix, including Admiral Farragut’s Patrick McNamara (24th) and Nima Beheshti (38th), who were in the top 40 at state.
James Raymond, Gulf: His Bucs won the district title last year, thanks in part to his fifth-place finish. He should be in for a bigger season as a sophomore.
Troy Shea, Mitchell: He led the Mustangs to a solid season and placed 13th in the conference meet last fall.
Wiregrass Ranch: The Bulls should again be solid. Three runners — Keval Patel, Christian Suriel and Andy Hippely— finished in the top 22 in Wiregrass’ first meet Saturday.
Thursday: Indian Rocks Invitational
Saturday: Lecanto Panther Invitational
Saturday: Newsome Wolves Invitational
Sept. 12: Cougar Invitational at Chesnut Park
Sept. 14: Anclote Sharks Invitational
Sept. 14: Mountain Dew Invitational at the University of Florida
Sept. 19: Viking Invitational at Crescent Lake
Sept. 21: Mitchell Invitational
Sept. 26: Eagle Lake Park meet (all Pinellas County public schools, Nature Coast)
Sept. 27-28: flrunners.com Invitational 14, Titusville
Sept. 28: River Ridge Invitational
Sept. 28: Seffner Christian Invitational
Oct. 3: Pirate Invitational at Walter Fuller Park
Oct. 3: Palm Harbor Invitational
Oct. 5: Don Bishop Invitational
Oct. 10: St. Pete City Championship at Crescent Lake
Oct. 11-12: Florida State Invitational (pre-state meet)
Oct. 12: SAC meet at Wiregrass Ranch (Pasco County public schools)
Oct. 12: Millard Schumate Invitational
Oct. 17: PCAC meet at Taylor Park (all Pinellas County public schools)
Oct. 21-26: District meets
Oct. 31-Nov. 2: Region meets
Nov. 9: State meet at Apalachee Regional Park
Compiled by staff writers Matt Baker, Joey Knight and Bob Putnam.