- October 18, 2022
Flagler Palm Coast’s boys cross country team is back.
For the first time since 2014, the Bulldogs have qualified as a team for the state championships.
FPC will be competing in the Class 4A race Saturday, Nov. 5 at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee.
“The kids are excited,” FPC coach Dave Halliday said. “It’s kind of been a rebuilding process since the pandemic. In 2020 we didn’t make it out of district, but we had a whole bunch of freshmen and sophomores, and those kids are on the cusp of definitely finishing in the top 15, but they’re shooting for top 10 in 4A, which is the best of the best.”
The Bulldogs placed sixth in the toughest region in the state on Oct. 29. Four of the five teams that finished ahead of them placed among the top 10 at state last year.
Earlier this season, FPC finished second at the Spikes and Spurs Classic and won three events including the Five Star Conference championship. The key to the Bulldogs' success this season has been their depth.
Sophomore Braedyn Wormeck was the Bulldogs’ top runner early in the season, but he has been out since undergoing an appendectomy in late September. He has returned to practice and could run at the state meet, Halliday said. While he was out, the team rallied behind him.
“It was kind of the turning point for the team,” Halliday said. “When that happened, everyone knew they had to step up. The boys are all very close. They wanted to step up for him.”
Junior Justin Gilliam led the Bulldogs with a personal record time of 16:22.9 to finish 16th overall at the Region 1-4A meet in Gainesville. Four other Bulldogs finished in 17:15 or under — Hayden Herndon (28th, 16:44.0), Barak Olago (34th, 16:50.6), Brandon Kalasnik (47th, 17:01.8) and Peyton Woodward (59th, 17:15.0).
“The kids are excited. It’s kind of been a rebuilding process since the pandemic.”
— DAVE HALLIDAY, FPC cross country coach
Every race for Gilliam is a triumph. Shortly before school started last year, he was hit by a car while he was running on his own. He rolled over the car’s hood and suffered a broken arm. Four weeks later, he ran in a meet.
“He was shaken,” Halliday said. “It definitely hit his psyche. When they get a challenge, you have to show them there’s an opportunity coming out of that challenge. It’s a big story for him to overcome that. It’s been fun seeing him grow.”
The FPC program has overcome its own challenges. Under former coach Peter Hopfe, the Bulldogs won boys cross country state championships in 2001 and 2002 and were runners-up in 2003. They added a third state championship in 2005 and a runner-up finish the following year under Halliday, who is now in his 19th year with the program.
But in the past 10 years, just getting out of their district and region have been tough. They finished ninth at state in 2012 and 12th in 2014. In 2015, Justin Pacifico was the individual state runner-up.
This team’s strength this year is that it has no standouts.
“We have four guys who have been No. 1 at one point,” Halliday said. “They understand that it’s not about the individual, it’s about the team. If one beats the other, and you both run your best time, that’s OK.”
MATANZAS, SEABREEZE BOYS AND GIRLS QUALIFY
The Matanzas boys and girls teams, the Seabreeze boys and girls teams and the Father Lopez boys team also qualified for the state championships in Tallahassee.
Matanzas and Seabreeze will be competing in the Class 3A races, while Lopez will run in the Class 1A race.
The Pirates' girls team finished seventh and boys were eighth at the Region 1-3A meet. Nina Rodriguez led the Matanzas girls with a 23rd place finish in a time of 20:32.6. Sierra Howard was 35th in 21:23.9. Christian Norfolk (41st, 17:40) and Blaine Vogel (47th, 17:53.3) led the Matanzas boys.
The Seabreeze boys team finished seventh and the girls team was eighth at the Region 2-3A meet. Three Seabreeze girls finished among the top 15: Mackenzie Roy (10th, 20:33), Ariana Roy (11th, 20:34) and Nickole Dane (13th, 20:43). Tyler Lewis (28th, 18:12) and Hunter Shuler (34th, 18:29) led the Seabreeze boys.
The Father Lopez boys finished second at the Region 2-1A race with brothers Andrew Gazzoli (fifth, 16:54.8) and Matthew Gazzoli (eighth, 17:03.7) leading the way. Talon Spires was 12th in 17:23.5.
FPC's girls did not advance with a 12th-place finish at region. Cassidy De Young led the Bulldogs with a time of 20:29 to finish 35th. Arianna Slaughter was 40th in 20:36.2.