After winning a national championship in November and back-to-back state championships, the North Fort Myers High School JROTC Mixed Raiders squad was the team to beat.
Every other program in the state, which used them as a model for what a Raider team should be, looked to bump them from the top of the competitive heap.
They couldn't. The Red Knights mixed team won the state championship this past weekend in Lake Wales, its third straight following a second-place finish in 2014.
The Red Knights defeated 18 other mixed programs, including a military academy, to win the event. The program also took home a fifth-place finish in the female event, and a 10th for the boys squad.
The team won the fitness challenge, cross-country rescue and the team run, while finishing third in the other two events, tire flip and the rope bridge.
Principal Debbie Diggs was very excited for the cadets, and anticipated another strong showing following their national championship.
"There's never any guarantee, but the kids are amazing. They didn't let the national title go to their heads," Diggs said. "They've been training every day and it shows because on competition day, they perform."
The team members were: Tim Brett, Kaitlyn Karkota, Cameron Lee, Philip Lee, Alyssa Lucas, Nga Pham, Genesis Rapalo, David Spradling, A.J. Sangster, Hannah Zinn, Max Zischkau, and Delanie Zohler.
Karkota, a part of all three championships, said winning never gets old, but that this one was special.
"This one was most special because we were national champs this year. If we couldn't win states, it would lower us," said Karkota, who plans to attend a military academy. "It was exhausting going through it, but you have to look for the end."
The team came into Saturday feeling as though they were the team to beat, so there was a lot of pressure as the other teams were gunning for them.
"People look at you differently. They see us and think we're coming back to win it again," Philip Lee said. "It gives them a motivation to do better than us."
Sgt. Maj. Bill Lansberry, senior instructor, said he has a program that's the envy of the state, with some teams even going out to do advance scouting and videotaping their performance.
"There are schools that everybody wants to know what they're doing. It's no different than any sport. They send people to track our times and try to meet those times," Lansberry said. "We try to beat those times, so we stay a little bit ahead of the pack."
There is a very solid, and deep core of kids who also serve to teach the younger cadets, allowing the program to reload rather than rebuild.
"We're able to replace those who graduate every year and we all work together to improve," Lansberry said. "We have enough people to fill those positions for those who graduate. There's a lot of skill involved in what we do. To learn them takes more than a season."
"It's not like a team, but a family. Everyone is so close and we help to push each other and strive to be better. It's a lot of fun," Zohler said.
North Fort Myers wasn't the only area school that had a great weekend. Mariner, which has always been a factor in state competition, had an impressive showing with a third-place finish in the female competition and a fourth in the male, who were five seconds away from a three-way tie for third.
The Triton men, who were state champs in 2014, were one of two teams that placed in four of the five events, said Master Sgt. Patrick Miller, head instructor. The females also placed in four of the five events, also one of two teams to accomplish that feat.
"We have a lot of kids who want to be involved in the Raider program. We start the year with at least 75 kids who are interested," Miller said. "The kids put in a lot of effort. They like being Raiders and have a great support group. The parents and the kids are committed."
Making these feats more amazing is the fact the state competition was postponed from December for budgetary reasons, Miller said, meaning the teams had to train and maintain through the holidays to remain competitive.
Ida Baker was also in the meet, but did not place.