Thursday, December 14, 2017

Tallahassee goes to Foot Locker Nationals, 1979 - 2017

[This item was written for The Fleet Foot, the newsletter of Gulf Winds Track Club.]

Saturday, 9 December 2017, was a full day of racing in Tallahassee. Gulf Winds Track Club was hosting the Tallahassee Ultra-Distance Festival at Wakulla Springs. Visit Tallahassee was hosting the USATF Junior Olympic National Cross-Country Championships at Apalachee Regional Park. But way out of town, at Balboa Park in San Diego, California, Ana Wallace and Michael Phillips of Chiles High were racing in the 39th annual Foot Locker National Cross-Country Championships. Wallace placed sixth in the high school girls’ 5K, running 17:48.1. Phillips ran 15:52.3 in the high school boys' 5K, taking sixteenth.

Just getting to Foot Locker Nationals is an accomplishment. Only 40 athletes are invited to the high school girls’ 5K, ten from each of four regional qualifiers--Midwest, Northeast, South, and West. The numbers are the same in the high school boys’ 5K. FLCCC started in Orlando as the Kinney Cross-Country Championships in 1979, but after a few years the event changed sponsors and moved to the west coast. During that four-decade history, Wallace and Phillips are the latest Tallahassee athletes to make it to the national meet. They weren’t the first, though.

Jessica Scafidi was the first, qualifying for the Foot Locker Cross-Country Championship in 1990. A Leon High senior, Scafidi had just won her third straight state cross-country title in girls’ class 3A. In the history of high school cross-country in Tallahassee, Scafidi was the first to win three state titles and remains the only girl from Tallahassee with that many state crowns. Scafidi ran 19:24 at the Foot Locker Cross-Country Championships, placing 26th. After graduating from Leon, she went on to run for the University of Florida.

Kathi Ward of Lincoln was next. Ward won state cross-country titles at Lincoln High in 1991 and 1992 in class 4A. Both of those years she also qualified for the Foot Locker Cross-Country Championships, the first (and still the only) two-time Foot Locker finalist from Tallahassee. For 25 years, it would be the best showing by a Tallahassee girl at FLCCC. After the 1992 season, Ward was named Gulf Winds Track Club’s Female Runner-of-the-Year. Ward later ran for Auburn University.

Ryan Deak
Ryan Deak

Ryan Deak was the first Tallahassee boy to make Foot Locker Finals; the Maclay junior qualified in 2002. Before qualifying, Deak had just become Maclay's first state cross-country champion, winning the class 1A boys' race. At Balboa Park, he was twelfth in the high school boys’ 5K with a 15:20. Deak ran for Colorado after high school. Recently he was back in Tallahassee where he won the Fallen Heroes 5K by more than 500 meters, cruising through Maclay Gardens in 17:01.

Matt Mizereck

Matt Mizereck went to the Foot Locker Cross-Country Championships in 2009. It was the capstone of a cross-country career where he had won three state titles in high school boys' cross-country, more than any other Tallahassee athlete. In fact, no other Florida schoolboy has taken more than three state crowns in cross-country. Mizereck also made history at Foot Locker, becoming the first Tallahassee runner to crack the top ten--he placed tenth in 15:36. Mizereck ran at the University of Florida for several years before transferring to Florida State University.

Lily Williams

In 2011, Lily Williams became the first Chiles High athlete to qualify as a Foot Locker Finalist. A senior, she was the first Tallahassee runner to make it to Foot Locker Nationals without first winning a state championship--Williams scored three silver medals at the State Cross-Country Finals in class 3A from 2009 to 2011. She finished 35th in Balboa Park at 18:30. After leaving Chiles, Williams ran for Vanderbilt.

Ana Wallace
Ana Wallace

2017 was the first year that two Tallahassee athletes raced at the Foot Locker Cross-Country Championships. The first was Chiles senior Ana Wallace. Wallace won the class 3A girls’ 5K in Florida’s State Cross-Country Meet at Apalachee Regional Park, then two weeks later took third at Foot Locker South, qualifying for Nationals. At Balboa Park she finished sixth--the highest placing at FLCCC by any Tallahassee runner ever. Of the 41 Florida girls who have raced at Foot Locker Nationals from 1979 to 2017, only two have placed higher--Ashley Brasovan, who won in 2007 and was runner-up in 2008, and Jennifer Barringer, who was third in 2003. Barringer is still racing; as Jennifer Simpson she won an Olympic medal in 2016.

Michael Phillips
Michael Phillips

There were not only two Tallahassee athletes racing at Foot Locker in 2017, there were two Tallahassee athletes from the same school. No other Florida school has qualified two Foot Locker Finalists in the same year. Chiles senior Michael Phillips raced at Balboa Park in the high school boys’ 5K, right after Wallace finished. Going into FLCCC, Phillips had won his second straight class 3A boys’ state cross-country title, one of only five Tallahassee boys to collect two high school cross-country championships during his career. Following that, Phillips placed second at Foot Locker South, advancing to Nationals. In San Diego, Phillips finished sixteenth, the first Chiles boy to make it to Foot Locker Nationals.

So far, seven Tallahassee athletes have raced at the Foot Locker National Cross-Country Championships. Wallace and Phillips were the latest, but don’t think they’ll be the last. The high school runner you see out on a training run today may be Tallahassee’s next Foot Locker finalist.


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