JACKSONVILLE – With five runners under the elusive 17 minute barrier; a standard for excellence in cross country, the Fleming Island High boys cross country team went toe-to-toe (pun) with Tallahassee Leon on one of the fastest courses on the Florida circuit, the New World Fall Spectacular at the Cecil Field Golf Course in Jacksonville. Leon eeked out a 61-60 team title over Fleming Island with Creekside third at 103.
“It was smooth, clean grass with very little elevation,” said Fleming Island boys coach Chris Otero. “We knew the field would be fast and this was going to a true test of going fast.”
From the outset, the Fleming Island boys, led by Will Livesay and Kameron Wallizada, were joined by Oakleaf High’s fast tandem of Dylan Nelson and Ajani Stokes as Leon’s front running pair of Jackson Yarbrough and jake Rogers; a sophomore and a freshman, respectively, took the field through lightning-fast splits on the way to a 15 minutes, 53.14 second win for Yarbrough and a 15:54.41 runnerup spot for Rogers with Riverview High’s Mason Ochs third at 15:59.86 completing a strong, fast front group. Fleming Island gave chase with Livesay fourth at 16:03.84 and Wallizada sixth at 16:04.60.
“All season, we have been shooting for the five guys under 17 and one of the two top guys; Will or Wallizada, to break 16,” said Otero, noting Fleming Island had just 49 seconds between the first and fifth finishers (a 16:23 average per five runners while Leon had a 55 second gap with a 16:22 average. “That sub-16 is the difference maker at the state meet.”
With the front 10 comprising of two Leon runners and two Creekside runners, it was Fleming Island delivering a 10th place from senior Landon Opp, in 16:21.17 that kept the Golden Eagles in the race for the top spot.
Creekside had runners at fifth and ninth to also stay in contention.
Fleming Island’s next two runners; Jayden Scherer at 15th in 16:34.06 and Jack McDade at 28th in 16:53.82 were part of the top 30 runners finishing under 17 minutes.
For Oakleaf, Nelson had a 16:11.92 for eighth with Stokes stepping into his best race wiht a 16:39.49 for 18th. Oakleaf finished eighth.
For the girls, Fleming Island High sophomore Mei Chiang got closer to her sub-19 minute mark with a fourth place 19:11 behind girls champion Elizabeth Iliff of Creekside’s 18:11.94, whom Chiang will see in their district race. University Christian’s Laci Watford was second in 18:46.22 with Creekside’s Blake Petrick third in 18:55.89.
Creekside won 50-56 over Tallahassee Leon, who had three top 10 finishers (4-6-7) with Fleming Island third at 69 points in a small preview of the newly-created district 1-4A lineup with Creekside and Fleming Island establishing themselves as favorites for November. Fleming Island was without top runners Lauren Schaudel and Emma Millson, both with lower leg injuries.
With Creekside putting a third runner in 10th place, Fleming Island’s Grace Adams was the second finisher at 13th place in 20:13.22.
Where Fleming Island will have a shot at a district title is a fast Chiang front finish, a return from either Schaudel or Millson, Adams breaking 20 and the final two or three runners; sophomore Morgan Erler, freshman Anna Rafalski, both running surprisingly tough for coach Suzanne Baker, and junior Marisa Kortright decreasing the gap from Chiang. Kortright was in at 20:52.68 for 24th.
Creekside has Iliff as a top candidate for the district and region title with Chiang with both teams having strong top fives.
In other New World Fall cross country action, Oakleaf Junior High’s tandem of Graham Myers and Dalton Sass finished 1-2 in the Northeast Florida Athletic Conference championship race featuring area middle school teams with Green Cove Springs landing finishers from third to sixth as the Yellow Jackets won 27-28 in the fiercely fought race. Lake Asbury was third with 88 team points.
Myers won in 10:56.33 for the 3K (1.7 mile course) with Sass in at 11:12.09. Green Cove Springs was led by Jacob Campbell’s 11:03.17 with Luke Melson, Skylar Gray and Derek Switzer following.
In the girls NEFAC race, Oakleaf’s Jayla Holt won in 13:04.83 with a final sprint away from Green Cove Springs’ duo of Addison Adams and Allie Knotts just five and 12 seconds off the pace.
Green Cove Springs had three runners in the top 10 with Savannah Hill in with Knotts to win the team title over Oakleaf 34-35. Bradford finished third at 61 with Lake Asbury and Wilkinson tying at 116 for fourth and fifth.
In Gainesville, at the Bobcat Classic at Santa Fe Community College, St. Johns Country Day School’s Matthew Stratton joined the sub-17 parade with a second place 15:57.94 effort to Oak Hall’s Austin Montini’s winning 15:52.43. Montini was sixth in Class 1A last year with Stratton eighth. St. Johns junior Jacob Kailes finished 14th in 17:20.24 in one of his fastest races of the year with Keystone Heights’ Tyler Shaw 16th in 17:24.00.
In the Bobcat girls race, Keystone Heights High junior Camryn Williams finished sixth in 19:56.72. St. Johns’ top girl was eighth grader Sofia Conde in 54th at 23:10.27.