JACKSONVILLE – Knowing that their top runner, sophomore Kameron Wallizada, was only returning to the lineup after two weeks of swimming and therapy, the Fleming Island High boys cross country team, led by junior William Livesay, took a page out of the ‘man-up’ playbook to grab an astounding 4th-5th-6th-7th finish and a team title at the district 1-4A cross country championships held Saturday at Sandalwood High School.
“We knew when Will went by Kameron near the middle of the race that the rest of us would have to run our best races to take up for Kameron being injured all last week,” said junior Landon Opp, who took the fifth spot behind Livesay’s fourth. “We kind of stormed the fort after that to get as many guys up front as possible. Kameron stayed in our pack and we crushed the finish.”
Livesay, who has improved steadily throughout the latter part of the season as he approached the elusive sub-17 minute mark, crushed his personal best time with a 16 minutes, 45 seconds finish behind winner Caden Monk of Buchholz who won in 15:59.4 in a mano-a-mano battle with Oakleaf High junior Dylan Nelson who took the runnerup spot in 16:08.9.
“I had my best race by 40 seconds, I think, but I was a little surprised that I was with him so close to the finish,” said Nelson. “I kept trying to put surges on him to feel him out, but he had little effect from them. Then, he put the hammer down in the last quarter mile and I had nothing left to respond.”
Mandarin sophomore Zachary Bradley was able to inch past Livesay 10 yards from the finish in a sprint for third in 16:44.9.
Fleming lsland finished with 33 team points to beat Buchholz’ 51 as the runnerup. Adding to the Golden Eagles’ finish were Wallizada, in at 16:54.2 despite a foot injury that hampered his training; junior John Brinkman at seventh in 16:558 and sophomore Jayden Scherer, in at 11th in 16:58.2.
“They all crushed their best for the year,” said Fleming lsland coach Karen Moritz, who was emotionally spent after watching her team’s effort while monitoring her husband Dave’s team, Ponte Vedra High School, as they finished an excruciating fourth at the district 4-3A championships at Middleburg High School to advance to regions in one of the deepest fields in Florida. “You know I’m a cryer and I’m happy on one end and a little sad on another end.”
In the girls race, Fleming Island High freshman Mei Chiang added another trophy to her treasure trove with a blast from the start and a solo jaunt on the Sandalwood course to cruise to a personal best time win in 19:07.
Chiang was without freshman shadow Grace Adams who has been the number two or number three finisher for coach Suzanne Baker as Adams was inflicted with flu symptoms prior to the race and finished a distant 15th place. Mandarin High, the team champions with 32 points to Fleming Island’s 37, equaled Fleming Island’s four runners in the top 10 but had the upper hand with finishes in second, fourth, sixth and eighth with Fleming Island at first, fifth, seventh and ninth.
“We knew it was going to be close, especially without Grace up top,” said Fleming Island’s third amazing freshman, Lauren Schaudel, who finished fifth in 19:45. “She’ll be better for regions.”
Junior Jennifer Fliess took seventh in 19:48, sophomore Emma Millson took ninth in 19:51 and Adams finished in 15th at 20:30 to complete the top five finishers for the Golden Eagles.
Marisa Kortright, a sophomore, finished 23rd with freshman Kennedy Williams 25th.
Fletcher finished third with 78 points with Buchholz fourth.
Oakleaf, sixth with 170 points, was led by two freshmen, Madeline Dahlman in 21:08, and Taylor Silkert in 22:43.
“We have a good group of young runners to keep our team strong for a couple of years,” said Oakleaf coach James Henderson. “Dylan has made the boys team a little strong each year.”
Oakleaf’s boys finished fifth with 137 points with senior Damien Price second finisher behind Nelson at 28th in 17:50.8.