Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Prose and Kohn: Sarasota cross country stays near the top of the pack

The program has found consistent success under Head Coach John Stevenson.

Head Coach John Stevenson has turned the Sarasota High cross country program in a consistent winner. (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)
Head Coach John Stevenson has turned the Sarasota High cross country program in a consistent winner. (Photo by Ryan Kohn.)
  • Sarasota
  • Sports
  • Share


It's what every sports program strives to achieve, yet it's one of the hardest things to catch. That makes some sense when you remember humans are quite fallible. We have good days and bad days. Our moods can affect our performance in whatever we're doing. Even if someone commits to doing something every day, there's no guarantee that the person's effort level will be the same each day. 

This is all to say: getting high schoolers to commit to the work ethic necessary to finish with elite times in cross country — perhaps the most monotonous sport there is — is no easy task. Yet the Sarasota High coaching staff, led by John Stevenson, has done it. In 2021, the Sailors boys finished 13th in the state's Class 4A while the girls finished 18th; in 2020, the programs finished sixth and eighth, respectively; in 2019, they finished ninth and fifth; in 2018, the boys, led by individual winner Ben Hartvigsen, who is now running for Harvard, won the state title, while the girls finished second. 

I could keep going, but you get the point. The Sailors boys and girls programs consistently finish in the top 20 in the state and usually higher. It's remarkable, especially when the sport of cross country itself is so individual in nature. No one's helping those athletes during actual races. It's not like football or basketball or volleyball, where smart coaches can scheme around a team's deficiencies and lean on its strengths in order to win games. Cross country programs are at the mercy of the individual talent allotted to them. The Sailors have seen state champions come and go and remain near the top of the pack. 

2022 appears to be no different. At the FSU Invitational, held Oct. 7-8 at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, the Sailors boys finished 23rd as a team while the girls finished 27th. That may sound lower than usual, but the FSU Invitational — also known as the Pre-State meet — features a mixture of the best programs in Florida, not just Class 4A schools, meaning some of the teams who finished above the Sailors won't be competition for them at the actual state meet on Nov. 5. 

"I think we're in the mix of things again," Stevenson said. "I think a top-10, top-5 finish at states is definitely possible for both squads." 

Stevenson credited his athletes with the program's long-term success. Stevenson said the leaders of the squad, the seniors and juniors, make sure the freshmen and sophomores coming into the program know the standards that have been set in stone. They do this because past runners did the same for them. At this point, Stevenson said, no class wants to be the class to let down the others, to let the program's history of excellence slide. 

The program also tends to attract kids who are self-motivated anyway. Stevenson said the program typically has one of the highest GPAs of any athletic program at the school. They have goals and they want to achieve those goals. That translates into running, where the most successful athletes are the ones who want to see their personal record times fall and fall and fall. 

Stevenson said a lot of programs will start taking things too easy around this time of the year. At Sarasota, the Sailors will get their mileage up over the next two weeks and continue doing intervals, or speed work. After that period, the program will start implementing more rest while still doing speed work, which Stevenson said is a good formula for peaking when the team needs to peak. 

Senior boys runner Alec Miller has the program's highest individual finish at the FSU meet, running the course in 15:38.80 and coming in 18th out of 283 runners. Miller is also a star in track and field; he finished second in the 1,600 meter run (4:19.86) at the 2022 state track and field championships in May. Miller echoed what Stevenson said about the team's success, noting there's only so much a coach can do other than give advice. It's on the runners themselves to make it happen. 

"I didn't work as hard my freshman and sophomores years as I do now," Miller said. "I wish I had. Some of these kids who have long term goals, we're tying to motivate them. We're showing them that if they do the work it will pay off for them. You don't have to go all-out as a freshman or sophomore but you want to establish a good base for those upperclass years."

At the FSU meet, the boys team also got a strong performance from senior Will Hartvigsen (45th; 16:90.00), the brother of Ben Hartvigsen. The girls team was led by sophomore Indy Grajalez (60th; 19:30.40) and senior Ella Menke (66th; 19:35.30). Like the team finishes, those individual finishes will look better at the state meet. And make no mistake: while a spot at the state meet is not ever guaranteed, the Sailors certainly expect to be there. Stevenson said he will instruct his team not to push themselves too hard at the school's district meet, and even the regional meet, since he feels confident the Sailors will qualify their way through each. 

Based on past results, that seems like a safe assumption. That's the thing about consistency: if you have it, you don't need to worry about much else. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

Latest News