This season's goal: finishing as high as possible at states.
Samantha Gayton has always had the desire to be great. She just needed a little extra push, the motivation to propel her to the finish line and beyond.
Gayton, an Ormond Beach resident, ran for Spruce Creek’s girls cross country team the past three seasons. She excelled in her junior year last season and was one of the Hawks’ top runners. However, the majority of the Hawks best runners graduated that year.
"We don't back down from a challenge. We're going to continue to work hard. I'm just working as hard as I can to be as strong as I can for the rest of this season."
SAMANTHA GAYTON, Father Lopez cross country
Father Lopez Catholic High School piqued her interest. And most notably, so did the Green Wave’s four-year letter winner Claire McDonnell.
Gayton transferred to Father Lopez in August, just before the start of her senior year.
“I was inspired by how hard Claire worked and how hard this team worked,” she said. “I really wanted to train with them. I wanted to hop on the bandwagon.”
Gayton and fellow Ormond Beach resident Mary Peck, a sophomore at Father Lopez, have made moves so far this season, becoming some of the Green Wave’s top competitors.
Peck, who has been running for three years, joined the team her freshman year. She, too, was motivated to get better. She learned how to practice and how to finally feel comfortable in the heat of a race.
“It was great to finally have a team to run with,” she said. “Everyone pushes each other.”
The team is like family. It’s a theme that is reiterated by coaches and players alike.
“We’re like sisters,” Gayton said. “The team has been great for me. They’ve been really supportive. I wish I could have made the decision to transfer sooner.”
Green Wave head coach Sue O’Malley has coached cross country for the past 27 years, the last 15 of which have been at Father Lopez.
She’s never had more fun coaching a group of girls.
“They’re the most hard-working, most dedicated group of young ladies that I have ever coached,” she said. “They sacrifice for each other. They’re always there to pick each other up.”
The girls know where they want to be by season’s end, and that’s at the state championship with an opportunity to place as high as possible.
“We all know it’s possible for us,” Peck said. “We just have to go out there and push really hard to get it.”