- April 3, 2019
The West Orange High school boys cross country team has found diversity among its members makes them effective and fast.
For the first time in team history, the Warriors have exchange students among their ranks.
“It’s been great because we give everyone a unique perspective on the importance of running and the importance of friendship on the team,” head cross country coach Brian Noe said.
The Warriors earned a spot in the regional meet that took place Saturday, Oct. 29, at Santa Fe College in Gainesville. They placed 13 out of 16.
“We really are going in as the underdogs,” Noe said before the race. “We are going out there hoping for the best, (but) only the top eight teams will advance to the state championship.”
One of the key runners for the team is sophomore Jaiden McKee, who has broken the school’s 5K record two consecutive years. Last year, he set the new school record as a freshman at 17:23. This year, he broke his own record after recording a time of 16:41 at metros.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t think as a freshman I’d be able to do that, and I thought it would take a few more years for me to improve.”
McKee grew up in Wisconsin and moved in 2020 to Florida. Prior to attending West Orange, he had never run competitively or even practiced running as a sport. Instead, he played soccer and trained in kickboxing.
“It was a big step for me (cross country), because I didn’t even know how to start training at first,” he said. “I ran one 5K ever before I started cross country, and it was like running three miles under 20 minutes sounded impossible to me.”
McKee believes part of his success on the course comes because he sees everyone who is running in it as teammates — not as opponents.
“I see everybody as teammate during a race — like people (who) can help me grow … because I run with them and I pace off of them,” he said. “I don’t see them as ‘Oh, I need to pass that guy and that guy.’ I see them as, ‘If I can keep up with him, I can keep improving.’”
Mentally, cross country has helped McKee grow as an individual and as an athlete.
“It helps your mentality on a lot of things,” he said. “In most sports, you are focused on what you are doing in that present moment, (in cross country) even when you are just running during a race or at a workout you can think about things and everything that’s going on. You can use that to help you run better and push yourself to be faster.”
For Noe, McKee has been an incredible addition to the team.
“He has been an amazing athlete,” he said. “He has a level of toughness and a level of competitiveness that I have not seen in this team in a while.”
Having a new coaching staff this year, and a depth to their long- distance workouts, also helped the Warriors during their season.
“Our diversity this year has been not just in the athletes but also on the coaches,” Noe said. “Coach (Neil) Ellenback came to us with some practice experience … and he’s the one that’s in charge of putting together our workouts for the long distance days. We also need to combine that with Coach (Gareth) Peters. … He covers short to middle distance, and he does Wednesday workouts which are all about short distances and high intensity.”