Saturday, November 21, 2009

2009 FHSAA State Cross-Country Championships

Just a few days before we all overdose on turkey, on 21 November 2009 athletics fans of the Sunshine State had the opportunity to overdose on cross-country running when the Florida High School Activities Association held its state championship meet. In just over three hours, eight five -kilometer races in four divisions were run, each one for a state title. It may not have left you feeling as bloated as Thanksgiving Day gluttony, but it was every bit as overwhelming.

7:30 am 1A Girls
The first starting gun of the morning was fired for the 1A girls race. Before even a kilometer had gone by, Kathryn Fluehr of the Community School of Naples had jumped out in front of her sister, Erika, and everyone else running. Behind the Fluehrs Maclay's Jana Stolting settled into third. Fellow Maclay runner Stephanie Kurgatt worked up through the field into fourth and briefly challenged Stolting for third, but in the end it was as it had been for most of the race--Kathryn Fluehr (17:00), Erika Fluehr (17:36), Jana Stolting (17:52), and Stephanie Kurgatt (18:03). Kathryn Fluehr's time appeared to labor up the final incline to the finish line, but still ran strong enough to win and to set a new Little Everglades course record of 16:59.53. Asked after the race about her struggle on the last hill, Fluehr quipped, "I live in Florida. We don't have hills." Last time I checked, Little Everglades Ranch was still in Florida. So is a cozy (and far from flat) little course at Apalachee Regional Park.

In spite of the one-two finish of the Fluehrs, Community School of Naples ended up third in the team standings with 104 points, failing to defend their 2008 title. Not far ahead, Holy Trinity (92 points) and Maclay School (97 points) respectively took home the champion and runner-up trophies.

7:55am 2A Girls
In the second race, no one ran away and hid early--or at all. Even past three kilometers, six runners were all in contention: Nicole Carpio of Ransom Everglades, Stephanie Schappert of Pope John Paul II, Stephanie Strasser of Fernandina Beach, Rebecca Chandler of Bolles, Joanna McCoy of Coral Shores, and Sarah Davis of Bishop Kenny. Those runners made up the lead pack as the race turned onto the infield of the Little Everglades steeplechase track. One by one the contenders fell off the lead group until on the final straightaway it was a battle of Stephanies, Schappert versus Strasser. In the end Schappert triumphed in the final yards, 17:59 to 18:03, with Nicole Carpio in the third spot at 18:09.

The individual race was one of Region 4 versus Region 1, but the team struggle was all Region 1--in fact, it was all Jacksonville. Region 1 runners-up Jacksonville Bolles performed when it counted and beat the Region 1 champions Jacksonville Bishop Kenny, 87 to 134. Victory was even sweeter for the Bolles girls for knowing that they had finished runners up to Bishop Kenny at the previous year's state championship.

8:20am 1A Boys
Patrick Swain was the defending champion. Patrick Swain was the pre-race favorite. Patrick Swain was content to let David Kilgore of Holy Trinity lead for most of the race and then go thundering by him going up the last hill for the win, 15:45 to 15:53. After winning a second straight state title, Swain was predictably asked if he would win a third. The Maclay runner wisely dodged the question. "If I say 'yes," it won't happen."

As it has been for the previous two years, the contest for the team title was between Melbourne Holy Trinity and Winter Park Trinity Prep. Trinity against Trinity--wasn't the Thirty Years' War fought over something like that? This year the Winter Park Trinity took home the champions' trophy, outscoring runner-up Holy Trinity 48 to 55. Not far back with 68 points was the third place team, P. K. Yonge.

8:45am 2A Boys
Tyler Davidson of Cocoa Beach led at one kilometer. He led at two kilometers. At three kilometers. Four kilometers. But they don't give lap prizes at the state meet, and four runners were following him closely--Colin Barker of Bishop Kenny, Erick Montoya of Estero, Michal Wallace of Bishop Kenny, and Argeo Cruz of Imokalee. Cruz faded badly in the final kilometer ending up tenth in 16:06, but Barker and Montoya were with Davidson on the final straightaway, setting up an unforgettable battle. The three slugged it out in front of the grandstands, but Barker had the superior kick and took the title in 15:23, while Montoya finished runner-up at 15:25 and Davidson took the bronze in 15:27. Wallace of Bishop Kenny was a close fourth at 15:31, but the rest of the field was over a hundred meters back.

The margin in the team contest was similarly slender, but Bishop Kenny was victorious there as well, defeating the runners-up from Estero 106 to 109. Any runner on either team could have swung that three-point difference one way or another, which has to give them something to think about while training or while finishing their next race.

9:05am 3A Girls
Bellview sophomore Anne-Marie Blaney was running near the front of the pack at the end of the first kilometer. Chiles sophomores Carly Thomas and Lily Williams were not, but they were close enough. By the end of the fourth kilometer Thomas and Williams were sharing the lead, with Blaney trailing in third. The Chiles runners, however, weren't able to entirely shake Blaney, setting up another dramatic finish. The three sophomores hit the final straightaway almost together. Thomas and Williams eventually got a few steps on Blaney. In the final yards, Thomas kicked past Williams for the gold, clocking 18:21. Williams's 18:22 was good enough for silver, while Blaney hung on for the bronze in 18:26. Kristin Zarella, the fourth place finisher, was almost a hundred meters farther back at 18:45.

Led by the one-two finish of Thomas and Williams, Chiles successfully defended it's state title, outscoring the runners-up from Lakewood Ranch 40 to 62. Fort Walton Beach finished out of the hardware in the third spot with 94 points.

9:30am 4A Girls
Mary Ann Brown of Orange Park bolted out to an early lead, but Winter Park's Shelby Hayes never lost sight of the front runner. Hayes overtook Brown and by the end of three kilometer led the fading Orange Park runner by over twenty seconds. Meanwhile, Freedom freshman Bridget Blake and Melbourne sophomore Vanessa Valentine were running down Brown. By the end of the fourth kilometer they had caught her and Blake started to make up ground on Hayes. Leaving the infield Blake was almost 200 meters down and over the final kilometer closed to within a hundred meters of Hayes. Still, that means that in the end Hayes won by almost a hundred meters--no exciting finishes in this race. Hayes championship-winning time was 18:14; Blake ran 18:31. Valentine took third in 18:43, ahead of erstwhile leader Brown, who finished fourth in 18:48.

Just as Blake couldn't catch Winter Park's Hayes, Melbourne couldn't catch Winter Park. Winter Park took the team title, outscoring runners-up from Melbourne 64 to 105. Lourdes finished just out of the hardware with 118 points in third.

9:55am 3A Boys
Leon High had won the boys' 3A team title in 2007 and 2008. Leon's Matt Mizereck had won the boys' 3A race in 2007 and 2008. With the 3A runners on the line, Ricky Quintana announced over the public address system that Pensacola Washington was ranked first in 3A, and Leon ranked third. Too bad, Leon. There's was always Mizereck, though.

But before the race could be run, it had to start. Twice the starting gun went off, and twice runner's went down in the first hundred yards and the field had to be recalled. The runners' nerves were on edge. But, as much as I hate to say that "the third time was the charm," the third time was the charm, and the race was on. Around the first turn Jimmy Clark of Creekside was near the front, as was Belen Jesuit's Elliot Clemente. Mizereck was about eight seconds back, running with his teammates Will Stanford and Riley Doherty. The leader passed 1,600m in 4:52. At the halfway point Clemente led, followed by Clark. Around three kilometers into the race Clemente had a three-second lead on Clark going down the backstretch. But Mizereck was coming. Moving up into third, Mizereck was on Clark's shoulder when the race moved onto the infield. By the time the runners finished the fourth kilometer Clark had moved into the lead. Mizereck and Clemente were right there with him. On the final straight Mizereck attacked. Clark tried to respond. Clemente did his best to hang on. Mizereck crossed the line first in 15:22, Clark trailing in 15:26. Clemente took the bronze in 15:29.

Behind the battle for the top spot, Stanford and Doherty took fourth and fifth for Leon, setting the Lions up to successfully defend their team title with a score of 59 points. Belen Jesuit, in their first year in 3A, took home the runners-up trophy with 103 points.

10:20am 4A Boys
The eighth and final race of the day was the 4A boys' championship. Brian Atkinson of Melbourne was the defending champion, and like Mizereck of Leon in the 3A race, Atkinson was a senior attempting to win a third straight state title. Atkinson's race also resembled Mizereck's in the early stages, with the Melbourne senior content to run a few seconds off the lead around the first turn. Atkinson, however, didn't wait for the final stretch to challenge for the lead. Before the race was half over Atkinson had moved out front and had already built a significant margin by three kilometers. Atkinson continued his charge all the way to the line and finished with a winning time of 15:21, the fastest mark recorded on the course all morning. Mark Parrish of Tampa Chamberlain was the silver medalist at 15:31 while Ryan Pickering of Leonard took the bronze with a 15:41.

Miami of Columbus' first athlete, Dominick Cabrera, finished fourth in 15:49, well out of the contest for the gold medal, but he was joined in the top ten by teammates Armando Del Valle (6th, 15:54) and Mark Gulesian (10th, 16:03). Columbus went on to an overwhelming team victory, topping the runners-up from Dr. Phillips 60 points to 126.

The meet was concluded with the awards ceremony. As a new touch, individual medals were presented by Rolf Steier, Bill Convey, Keith Brantley, and some old fogey, each of whom had won state titles back in the twentieth century. After the top teams and individuals had received their bling, it was time to break down team tents, pose for a few more photos, and pile into cars and team buses to go back home. Little Everglades Ranch was free of runners till next cross-country season, left to its sandhill cranes and dreams of horse racing.


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