The Brandon Eagles girls cross country team made it to states for the first time in 13 years.

The Brandon Eagles girls cross country team reached the finish line while facing tremendous adversity in the 2019 season. They made it all the way to states for the first time as a team in 13 years, finishing 23rd overall. Five of the seven runners ran personal best times as well.

The Eagles accomplished these feats while only having 10 runners on the team. After finishing third in districts, the team had to compete in the regionals with the minimum five runners, instead of the typical seven, due to injury and sickness, but managed to finish sixth and qualify for states.

According to Head Coach Robert Maestas, four of his top five runners were banged up down the stretch of the season. Some of them had to sit out races, and they had to do alternative workouts such as working in the swimming pool and using ellipticals.

Maestas said that qualifying for states was a huge accomplishment in and of itself with all of the injuries that occurred. Senior Jessica Trlak was one of the runners that was injured. With the blessing of her mom, she was able to compete in her final race at states.

Maestas left the decision up to Trlak and her mom because she was one of the top runners on the team for the last four years and she earned the right to compete if she wanted. Maestas said that Trlak’s mom remarked that her daughter would rather chew her leg off than not run. She finished in the back of the pack, but was happy that she was able to compete.

Several of the runners are dual-sport athletes, with four being JROTC cadets. Senior Reva Goldberg is JROTC second-in-command of 180 cadets and senior Gita Goldberg is the battalion commander. Senior Emma Jones plays multiple sports, including volleyball and wrestling. She is the first female wrestler to be a part of Brandon High School’s storied program.

The other runners that made up the team are senior Nithya Chummar (top three runner), senior Christiana Taylor (top three runner), senior Jazmine Ortiz (number five runner), senior Gabriella Perez, freshmen Ayva Bigord (youngest runner) and sophomore Marielis Claudio (top runner).

“They have become such a close family,” said Maestas. “They had to rely on each other through injuries, and when one went down, the next one stepped up and was able to help keep the team together and keep advancing. They are all like sisters.”

Maestas said that in 15 or 20 years from now he’ll probably get a phone call from the team wanting to get together when they are all back in town. “I think that they are the kind of kids that are going to be best friends forever.”

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Nick Nahas
Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.