WESLEY CHAPEL — Wiregrass Ranch High has been the Pasco County cross country scene the last five years.
The boys team won Sunshine Athletic Conference championships three of the last four seasons and top district honors in four of the last five, while the girls have won five-straight SAC and district crowns.
Both squads have also performed at states, where the girls have captured top-10 finishes three of the last four years and the boys have done so in each of the last five, but both programs’ accomplishments have been as Class 2A or 3A squads.
Now the Bulls have a new challenge: maintain their expected level of dominance while moving up to Class 4A-District 6.
“The road to the state meet is a little bit more challenging, so just getting out of our district and our region is going to be tough,” Wiregrass Ranch boys coach Chris Loth said. “This year we’re going to have to have our best day to get to the state meet.”
Not only do the Bulls have to compete with perennial powerhouses such as Plant, Steinbrenner, Freedom, Sickles and Wharton just to be one of the four teams that advances beyond districts, but both squads also have to do so with a new cast of characters.
Loth lost five of his top seven runners, while girls coach Don Howard is replacing four from his varsity squad.
“What I’ve said to them is the last five years we’ve shown up at our district meet expecting to win, and this year we show up at our district meet hoping to compete,” Howard said. “A district championship is possible, but it’s going to take some special training and performance by our four and five runners.”
Losing so many seniors has also created a leadership void.
“Myself and Savannah (Goode), who is also a senior, we talked a lot about keeping the pack as strong as it’s been even with all the new runners,” said senior Elise Cedre, who joined the girls squad as a freshman. “We’re also making sure we get enough sleep and eat right so we are strong and can uphold the tradition Wiregrass has.”
It is that tradition that has led to the Bulls’ motto for this season.
“When we had our preseason meeting in May we came up with the motto of ‘Step up’, and that means everyone step up themselves and for us to step up to a new classification,” Loth said.
And step up is exactly what the Bulls intend to do.
“Everyone needs to watch out because we are trying as hard as ever,” Cedre said. “We want to be the best we can be and to get past regionals. Even moving up to 4A, people should still be watching for Wiregrass.”
Tribune correspondent Kyle LoJacono can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Kyle_LoJacono.