Mitchell High’s Claudia Cancello has faced uphill challenges throughout her four years of running cross country and distance events in track and field.
Her prep running career comes to an end Friday evening, but not before the senior gets the opportunity to go out in style. Cancello and her teammates will make the four-hour commute from New Port Richey to the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville. Awaiting Cancello is a chance to step onto the state championship podium, something she hasn’t done in her high school duration.
“I’m so excited about this weekend,” Cancello said. “Our 4-by-800 team believes we have a chance of reaching the podium, but I’m also excited about the two-mile run. I just want to finish my high school career strong. I’m just going to miss running with all the girls and getting excited about our races. I’m probably going to cry after the 4-by-800 run.”
Someone that’ll be missing from Friday’s state championships is Wiregrass Ranch’s Nikita Shah, who has been a main rival to Cancello in the distance events. The two runners have competed strongly against one another, from the start of the season to conference to districts. The grand finale of the arguably top two girls distance runners in Pasco County won’t come to fruition.
“It’s a friendly rivalry between the two,” Mustangs coach Jeff Leavey said. “It’s sad to hear about (Shah) not running and Claudia would be sad, too. We’re Pasco County fans and we like to see the runners perform at their highest level. Claudia is a brave little girl and she’ll run the race to the best of her ability no matter who’s running. Winning the 3,200 is going to be tough. To ask her to win and drop 35 seconds in a week is unheard of. That’s a lot.”
The University of Tampa-commitment has accomplished so much already this season, taking home a conference crown in the 3,200 (11:41.36) to placing second in the same event (11:39.26) at the Class 3A-Region 2 meet.
Leavey has applauded Cancello’s accolades this season and believes she can medal in the 4-by-800 and 3,200-meter run, even if it’s an uphill battle.
“She’s had an outstanding track season,” Leavey said. “(Claudia) is our leadoff girl on the state qualifying 4-by-800 team. She’s had a great, great season. At the state meet, we’re hoping she can reach the podium in the 4-by-800 and we know we have to improve. I think she’ll run a lifetime personal record in the two-mile. She’s poised to run really, really fast.”