ODA boys track and field athletes eye more school records

ODA boys track and field athletes eye more school records


The Out-of-Door Academy boys track and athletes practice all year long, with as much intensity as they do during the season.

Now that work is paying off.

ODA is sending nine boys athletes, all runners, to the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1A state championships, to be held May 15-18 in Jacksonville at the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium. That is the most state qualifiers among area schools. In East County, Lakewood Ranch High and Braden River High are each sending one boys — the Mustangs are sending senior discus thrower James Cummings to the Class 4A meet, while the Pirates are sending senior hurdler Marcus Schade to the Class 3A meet.

The Thunder found the most success while competing in 1A. Head Coach Jay Roper, who is in his first year with ODA after previously coaching at Sarasota’s Riverview High, said the credit for that goes to the athletes themselves who have dedicated themselves to hard work ever since he took the job last summer. All miles count the same, Roper said, no matter when they are . The same goes for miles not — a lack of preparation in the summer and winter will affect runners in May, when they are vying for spots at the state meet.

Roper’s instruction has led to a literal record-breaking season. Three school records have been set by Thunder athletes: Senior John Moschella holds the 400-meter hurdles record (56.52 seconds) and the javelin record ( feet, 7 inches), and the relay team of junior Collin Dillingham, junior Isidro Iturralde, senior Stig Soderberg and sophomore Kevin Gyurka set the record in the 4×-meter relay.

If Roper’s expectations come true, however, the school will add three more records at the state meet. Gyurka (9:37.66) is approximately five seconds off the school’s 3,200-meter record, set by Tristan McWilliam in 2022 (9:32.82); Dillingham (2:00.14) is approximately 4 seconds off of McWilliam’s 2022 record in the meters (1:56.43); and the team of Dillingham, Moschella, Soderberg and senior Jacob Douglas (3:31.76) are approximately one second off the school record in the 4×400 meter relay, set in 2009 (3:30.61).

“I’m super proud of them,” Roper said. “They are reaping the benefits of their hard work.”

The broken records, and the possibility for more, have not clouded the runners’ minds as the state meet approaches. Thunder runners unanimously said their preparation will not change just because it is the final, and most important, meet of the season. Their training has prepared them for this moment, they agreed. All they have to do now is run.

ODA track and senior John Moschella holds the school record in the 400-meter hurdles (56.52 seconds).

Photo by Ryan Kohn

Gyurka enters the state meet as ODA’s highest-seeded runner, sitting fourth in the 3,200 meters, approximately 11 seconds behind No. 1 seed Henry Stark of Palmer Trinity High (9:26.58). While catching Stark is unlikely, Roper said Gyurka could find himself on the podium by surpassing third-place Blake Young of Indian Rocks Christian (9:36.82).

Gyurka isn’t sweating the pressure.

“I tune all the distractions out and push myself,” Gyurka said. “This is the last race. I’m giving everything I can.”

The 4× meter relay team, seeded sixth, could also sneak onto the podium. The team is approximately four seconds behind third-seeded Oak Hall School (8:04.74). Dillingham, who ran at the state meet last year, is one of the few Thunder runners with experience at the meet. Dillingham shared his experience with his teammates so they know what to expect, from the race and from themselves.

“The adrenaline gets pumping,” Dillingham said. “It always gets going before a race, but the state meet is on a different level. The vibe is crazy. You have to use that.”

The meet will carry a sense of finality for some ODA runners. Seniors Declan Fiorucci and Jacob Douglas will be running their at final high school meets at states. Both runners said the program has been one of the highlights of their high school experiences because of their personal growth and the bonding the team has done. Fiorucci said his favorite track memory was when the team did a “GoGurt run,” in which everyone raced while consuming a packet of the squeezable, tubular yogurt.

At the state meet, Fiorucci and Douglas said they will leave everything on the track as the Thunder run for the record books.



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