VALDOSTA, GA - With former high school rivals Joel Nesi and Evan Fuller now running as teammates, the Flagler College mens cross country team took second place at the Border Clash Cross Country season opener staged Fri., Sept. 6 by Valdosta State University at Freedom Park.
"I love the Clay County runners because they like to run hard and train hard," said Flagler coach Brian Beil, who has Flagler picked to finish third in the Peach Belt Conference and seventh in the NCAA Division II Southeast region preseason rankings. "We have had a number of Clay County runners do well in our program with Andrew Smith, a Ridgeview High grad, now a coach at Thomas University in Georgia."
Flagler finished sixth last year in the region and third at the Peach Belt Conference championship.
Among other runners for Beil were former Clay High standout Corey Mundy, Fleming Island High grad Erik Hartley and Smith. All three were school record setting cross country athletes with Smith setting numerous indoor mile records. Mundy holds the school record for cross country with a 24:29 finish in 2013 with Smith third fastest with a 25:26 in 2016. Hartley, is fifth fastest for the school in 25:41 in 2016. Smith holds the indoor track records for the 800 (1:59.34) and the mile (4:08.52) with Mundy holding the 3K record (8:28.79). Smith, Mundy and Hartley were part of the distance medley relay record of 10:28.59 set in 2015.
At Valdosta, with the plan to train through the race featuring 16 teams, Flagler finished with 60 team points behind winner University of Tampa's 39 points. Valdosta State was third with a close 65.
In seventh place, with two area runners, was Florida State College of Jacksonville, coached by former St. Johns Country Day School coach Joseph Hale with 208 points. FSCJ has former Orange Park High standout John Bear and former Fleming Island High runner Gage West on its roster.
In the front pack, Flagler stationed a group of six runners; Fuller, a Fleming Island High graduate and a sophomore returner, and Nesi, a Ridgeview High graduate and a freshman, to run an even paced race with the group finishing in 10th through 15th with times of 25:14.7-25:15.1 as the group averaged near 5:35 per mile.
"The men executed very well today," said Beil. "We planned to even split as a pack and they did just that. It's extremely early, but so far so good."
For Fuller, the team plan was set up for season strength.
"We are looking to have a big race next week at Florida (University of Florida's Mountain Dew Invitational on Sat., Sept. 14)," said Fuller, who returns as one of the team's quickest runners after an outstanding freshman campaign. "We are building the team to have a big pack at the finish making top 20 scores."
Top area returners including Fuller are senior Anthony Colasanti, from Matanzas High; sophomore Justin Greene, from Ocala Vanguard High; senior Trenton Liberty, from Mandarin High, and sophomore Anthony Whelan of P.K. Yonge High in Gainesville.
For Nesi, the newest of the pack, the transition to college competition has been a growing process.
"I had a good, solid summer of training that was monitored by coach Beil," said Nesi, a state cross country meet finisher and a track state qualifier for his high school coach, dad Al Nesi, Jr. "I'm all in for the program because coach Beil has a proven track record."
For FSCJ, Bear was top finisher with a 24th place finish in 25:48.7 with West in at 69th in 30:26.7.
"I'm feeling good about my decision and my knee is strong again, " said Bear, who was hampered by a knee ailment for his senior year, but will made state meets in cross country and track.
Sophomore Aldren Biala, a Bishop Snyder standout, was second FSCJ finisher behind Bear with a 27:34.5 split getting him 47th place. Richmond Hill freshman Lucas Van Ginkel, who has family in Fleming Island, finished 79th in 34:00.3. Joseph Hale, son to coach Joseph Hale, is also a runner for FSCJ.
Other Clay County runners expected at the Mountain Dew Invite on Saturday are Alex Guy (Keystone Heights) and Keith Kelley (Ridgeview) from Florida Southern College and Benjamin Kailes (SJCDS) from University of South Florida.
Kailes recently walked on at USF and finished 21st in his first meet in 28:38.31 for third fastest for Bulls at the Florida Gulf Coast University Invite. USF took second.
Also competing in Gainesville will be the Embry Riddle womens team, the defending South Region NCAA Division II champions who have Fleming Island High grad Grayson Iller on the team in 2019. Embry Riddle's girls team is currently ranked second in preseason polls behind University of Tampa.