TAMPA – The King High School girls cross-country team has its sights set high this year. After missing out last year on a place in the state meet – by one spot – head coach Gary Bingham not only expects to make this year’s meet, but thinks his team has a chance at a top 10 finish.
But when the preseason rankings of the top 15 cross-country teams in Florida for Class 3A came out, King was nowhere not on the list. It is probably a good thing then that Bingham doesn’t care about rankings.
“I don’t worry about rankings. Rankings are nothing,” said Bingham. “At the end of the day, if I can make my top seven girls run together, to steal from (former Plant girls coach) Roy Harrison, ‘When you can pack seven runners together it is hard to beat you.’”
It might be better for King that it is not ranked to start the year. This is a team that appears poised to get stronger as the season progresses. For instance, King’s top runner, Sneha Sathish, spent a month this summer in India visiting her grandparents. Training proved to be difficult.
“There was no space at all, so there is not really a place to run. Everything is on top of each other,” Sathish said. “Sports isn’t really a big deal over there, so seeing some little girl run across the place isn’t very normal.”
Sathish, a sophomore, ran her best time of the season last year of 19:58 at the state meet. What is unique about Sathish is that she also plays tennis year-round. In fact, she originally came out for the team to improve her endurance for tennis even though she knew very little about cross country.
“I didn’t expect (the races) to be three miles. I expected it to be a mile at the most,” Sathish said. “I’ve always been serious about (tennis) and I thought it would help me with my tennis.”
Bingham admits while there are some challenges trying to work around her tennis schedule, there are also some benefits gained from the competitive nature of tennis due to it being a one-on-one sport.
“She does not like to get beat,” Bingham said.
Despite what could be a slow start for King, Bingham expects his team can achieve its goals. Along with a top 10 finish at state, Bingham would like to capture a title that has eluded him in his nine years of coaching – a district title.
King will be in a new district this year with 13 teams that features Robinson, Chamberlain and Brandon. Bingham plans on taking a long term approach to the season and won’t worry too much on where other teams may be at in their progression.
“We are focusing on running better each meet. I’ve never focused on beating teams. I tell the girls that if we race the way we are trained, we can beat teams,” Bingham said.