ORANGE PARK - St. Johns Country Day School cross country runner Matthew Stratton did not disappoint from his front-running position executing a near-minute win, but Middleburg High's Emma Mussante …
ORANGE PARK - St. Johns Country Day School cross country runner Matthew Stratton did not disappoint from his front-running position executing a near-minute win, but Middleburg High's Emma Mussante forged forward in her quest to get to the state championship race that has evaded her for three years; by two spots last year; 17th at the region 1-3A championships by 12 seconds. The top 15 individuals advanced to the state meet.
"I'm running so much faster than that time at regions last year and we took the whole team to regions for the first time in a decade," said Mussante, a senior. "I'm way faster at this point then I was at that region meet."
Mussante's 17th place region finish was at 20:53.2 while she already has a pair of sub-20 minute races under her belt with the Bob Hans race time a win by a hair over Mandarin's Alyssa Wyatt; 20:09.70 to 20:09.77.
"I won at Ridgeview a couple of years ago," said Mussante, currently ranked fifth in region 1-3A. "At the start, I got caught in a pack until past the turn and had to get up from third place at about the mile mark."
Mussante, who was third behind St. Augustine's duo of Karah McElhone and Iliana Woodruff at the first mile with Wyatt behind the front trio.
On the second lap of the Ridgeview course, Wyatt surged to overtake all three runners in an apparent move for the win.
Mussante worked methodically back to Wyatt's shoulder as the pair made the final left turn on the Panther football field and had just 100 yards to the finish line.
"We did a lot of strength training over the summer," said Mussante who pulled away with just 10 yards to the finish to edge Wyatt. "When I got to her, I said to myself, one more push."
In the top 12 finishers, Oakleaf High's duo of Taylor Silkert and Sierra Barrera finished in 20:54.69 and 21:09.17 to keep their ever-improving learning curve on the upswing.
Mandarin won the girls titles with 50 points over St. Augustine's 61 minus front-runner Reilly Barber with Middleburg seventh and Oakleaf eight. Clay finished 11th, St. Johns 14th and Fleming Island's B Team 15th.
For Stratton, the business at hand was to keep sharp until the upcoming post season.
"We talked and he decided to come here, get a strong run in and let the other guys go to the FSU Pre-State meet for that meet," said St. Johns coach Greg Stratton. "It's all about November at this point."
Stratton, with a series of sub-16 minute finishes already this season, won in 16:19.84 over Josh Hett of St. Augustine's 17:21.70.
Strong finishes came from Spartan Jacob Kailes in 17:58.49 for ninth and Ridgeview's Dominik Frietze and James Snipes in at 15th and 16th; 18:08.70 and 18:10.97. Middleburg's
Robert Nogales led the Broncos at 29th in 18:36.37.
Bishop Kenny and St. Augustine tied at 53 for co-team champions with Middleburg sixth, St. Johns seventh and Ridgeview ninth. Oakleaf was 13th with Clay 18th. Orange Park was 21st.