On Oct. 22, the Saint Leo Cross Country teams participated in the Sunshine State Conference Championships in Melbourne, Fla. Both the Men’s and Women’s teams won the competition. For the Men, it was the third consecutive title while the Women won for the second time in the school history. The Lions also captured the individual titles for both Men and Women for the fourth and third consecutive year, respectively.
The meet was held by the Florida Institute of Technology at the Wickham Park. It began with the Men’s team, who competed against each other on an 8K long course which consisted of 3 even loops. Six teams, which accounts for 54 individuals, finished the race.
A Junior from Florida Southern College, Bobby Ormsby, paced the pack from the very beginning. The runner had about a 100-yard lead over the rest of the competitors after the first loop. Beginning the second loop, Freshman Ronald Cheserek began his chase and managed to close the distance, leaving his opponent a few seconds behind his back.
Cheserek managed to win the race with a time of 24:24.79, which is a new Sunshine State Conference record. The previous record of 24:26.43 had been set in 2010 by Ben Martucci of Florida Southern College.
Cheserek is the fourth Lion to become the SSC individual champion after two graduates, Carl Dunne (2013) and Valentin Lenz (2015), as well as Senior Niclas Bez, (2014) who finished the race in seventh, clocking the time of 25:11.59.
The points of the first 5 runners count towards the final result, and the Lions managed to place all of them in the top 15. Consequently, the Lions won the competition scoring 30 points while Florida Southern College was second with 41 points, and Nova Southeastern was third with 64 points. The remaining three Lions who scored the points were Senior Rafal Matuszczak in third place, Junior Anthony Deleva in fourth place, and Junior Joe Fuller in fifteenth place.
When asked about the Lions’ tactics for the race, Head Coach Kent Reiber said: “On the Men’s side, we wanted to go out and compete with Florida Southern College, who we thought would give us the most challenge for the title. We are a veteran squad you could say, with only 1 underclassmen in the top 5, so we were comfortable with any race scenario that was thrown at us.”
The Saint Leo Women’s team, who competed at a 6K long course immediately after the Men, nearly duplicated the Men’s results. The Lions won the competition with a score of 28 points while Junior Colett Rampf captured her third consecutive individual title, winning the race with a 39-second lead over the next runner. Rampf finished the race with a time of 20:26.67.
“Based on the past year’s experiences, I knew that this race would go out slower than our usual races…Around the first mile, I started to push a little bit to actually start the race. Several girls responded and followed me for a bit,” said Rampf after the race.
During the first loop Rampf was challenged by Tampa’s Claudia Cancello. Nevertheless, beginning the second loop, which was the final one for the women, Rampf decided to start her attack, and she began to increase her lead with every move.
“Around the second mile, I started to get a bigger gap between me and the next runner behind me. After I had reached a comfortable gap, my coach told me to slow down and just finish the race. Overall I think it was a good race tactic and at the end it worked out well and was able to safe myself for the upcoming races,” said Rampf.
Junior Alyssa Bayliff also managed to pass Cancello, and she finished the race second with a time of 21:05.64. All the Lions’ scoring runners were placed in the top 12, with Sophomore Laura Tobin finishing fifth, Junior Laura Tobin finishing eighth, and Senior Natalie McCormick finishing twelfth.
“For the women, the goal was to go out there and compete like we have been throughout the year. We wanted to be aggressive in the second half of the race, but maintain a tight pack into the finish,” said Reiber.
Even though the second team, University of Tampa, placed all their scoring runners in the top 15, they scored 55 points which was 27 points more than the Saint Leo Women’s score. Florida Southern College completed 102 points which gave them third place.
“We knew the women just needed to run the same way as the men and the same way they have all season. We wanted our women to run together as much as possible so that we could win a conference title,” said Callahan.
Even though both men and women captured the SSC titles, the task is getting more difficult every year. “Over the last 5 years the SSC is getting much more competitive, and from a coaching/recruiting standpoint it’s tough. We always find ourselves thinking outside of the box to find our next potential championship recruit,” said Reiber.
The performance might have a positive impact on the regional rankings. Currently, the Women are ranked as number one in the South region, and the conference title might allow them to be ranked in the top 25 in the national ranking.
The men who are currently ranked as number three also have the potential to jump up in the ranking. “The Men’s rankings could change after Florida Southern had been ahead of Saint Leo’s men throughout the season. Lee who is first in the region is a great team that we will have to compete within two weeks,” said Callahan.
Both the teams will come back to action on Nov. 4 to participate in the regional championships. Similarly, to last year, the race will be hosted by Saint Leo at the Abbey Golf Course. The regional championships will be the qualifying race for the national championships which, for the first time in Saint Leo history, will also be hosted by Saint Leo two weeks later.