Saturday, October 10, 2009

FSU Invitational launches Leon County's Apalachee Regional Park Trail

Nearly 600 athletes including 52 cross-country teams were on hand for the dedication of Leon County's Apalachee Regional Park Trail at the Florida State University Cross-Country Invitational on Saturday morning, 10 October 2009.

The gun went off just after 7:50am for the first race ever run on the course, the college men's 8 km. After three circuits of the loop, Mitch Ownbey of Stephen F. Austin University crossed the line first, establishing a course record of 24:50.85. Closely trailing Ownbey were his SFA teammates, Keith Mahipala (24:59) and Dennis Yeats (25:11). Sweeping the top three places, SFA won the team struggle with the low score of 24 points. The University of Florida was the runner-up team, edging third place University of North Florida 69 to 72. Host school Florida State University was fourth with 84 points.

Jennifer Dunn of Florida State won the following race, the college women's 5K, with a 17:41.43 performance. The ladies of Stephen F. Austin answered by taking the next two places, Amy Shackleford in 17:49 and Stephanie Ganter in 17:51. When the team scores were totaled, SFA had beaten FSU 40 to 50, placing first in the seven-team field. The University of Tampa edged out the University of Florida for third place, 76 to 81.

The field for the high school boys' race was stacked. Defending FHSAA-3A cross-country champion Matt Mizereck of Leon lined up for the start, as did Tallahassee Maclay's Patrick Swain, the defending FHSAA-1A state champion. The twenty-one teams competing included FHSAA-3A team champions, Tallahassee Leon. None of these favorites, however, was among the optimists who charged to the front when the race started. There are, however, no prizes for leading the first 500 meters of a 5,000-meter race. When the leaders came around to start the second loop of the course, Mizereck of Leon had moved into the lead to stay. Mizereck finished in 15:34.27--not quite as fast as his 14:57 at FLRunners a week earlier, but good enough for a comfortable win and to establish a respectable 5K course record for the ARP. Mizereck was followed across the finish line by Ty McCormick of Gainesville (Georgia) North Hall, a 2008 GHSA-3A All-State runner. McCormick's time was 15:49, four seconds ahead of third-place runner Swain. The team competition was more closely contested, with Tallahassee Leon narrowly beating out Melbourne Holy Trinity for the win, 86 to 90. Charlotte was a close third at 98, and local favorite Bradfordville Chiles placed fourth with 125 points.

The high school girls field wasn't nearly as loaded, but still featured quite a few All-State performers, most of them from Bradfordville Chiles, the defending FHSAA-3A cross-country champions. After the initial mad dash, the race settled down to a duel between Lily Williams of Chiles and Jana Stolting of Tallahassee Maclay. By the mile, Stolting edged ahead and began to build a lead. At 4,500 meters the course leaves the woods for the last time, and the first runner to come into view was Stolting. Williams charged after her down the final field, but failed to close the gap, and Stolting ended up with the win, establishing a girls' 5K course record of 18:28.83. Williams followed in 18:31, with the next two runners in being her Chiles teammates Carly Thomas (18:57) and Rachel Givens (18:59). The Chiles girls took five of the top ten places and crushed their competition with a winning score of 26 points. Melbourne Holy Trinity finished a distant runner-up with 75 points. Hoschton (Georgia) Mill Creek was third with 115.

A short dedication ceremony preceded the open 5K. Instead of a ribbon cutting, the leader of the open race "cut" the dedication ribbon by running through it at the 400-meter mark. After dashing through the tape, he faded back into the field for the next 4,600 meters. Maclay coach Gary Droze soon moved into the lead, and if he slowed down as the race went on, he slowed down less than the rest of the runners and won the open in 17:27, establishing the masters' record for the course. Top female honors went to Kirsten Hagen who finished eighteenth overall in 20:05. Lisa Cox was the first female master in at 25:51.

Course conditions were excellent, and could be considered astonishing by anyone who knew that less than a year ago the entire trail was abandoned cow pastures, swamp land, and thick woods. The weather was typical for Florida, but unfortunately typical for Florida in August rather than in October. But Leon County's Apalachee Regional Park Trail should be around for quite some time, so there should be plenty of future opportunities For fast runners to run this fast course in fast weather. The FHSAA District 1-2A cross-country championship and the FACA All-Star cross-country meet have already been scheduled for the venue on 7 November 2009 and 5 December 2009 respectively.


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