Monday, April 16, 2018

Michael Niezgoda and Christina Linton survive the sand at the Hops & Half Shells 5K

Just south of Crawfordville, Florida, Tallahassee Community College opened the first building of the school's Wakulla Environmental Institute during early 2016. In April of the same year, TCC hosted the first annual Hops And Half Shells 5K cross-country race on the Institute grounds. Since then, the Institute has thrived. So has the race, and on Saturday morning, 14 April 2018, Michael Niezgoda won the third annual Hops And Half Shells 5K, running 18:10. Christina Linton repeated as the first woman in the race, placing fourteenth overall in 22:59.

Michael Niezgoda
2018 Hops & Half Shells 5K

The 158 acres of Institute land include just about every kind of natural feature you'd expect to see in Wakulla County--pine forest, swamps, sinkholes, a natural bridge, and lots and lots of sand. During 3.1 miles of cross-country running, the athletes in the Hops and Half Shells 5K got to experience all of that, especially the sand.

The race got underway just after 9:00 AM. Michael Niezgoda was out front immediately and moving away from the rest of the field. Gary Droze, the Tallahassee Community College cross-country coach, led the pursuit during the first half of the race, but after that Vince Molosky took over the second position. And Molosky began to eat away at Niezgoda's lead.

Michael Niezgoda
Michael Niezgoda

"Vince tried to pull a Meb Keflezighi, running from behind," said Niezgoda. "I didn't see him at the start, but during the race I turned around and there he was."

The second half of the race featured patches of loose sand, footing that you would have expected on the beach rather than in the forest. Already fatigued from a fast start, Niezgoda wallowed through those sandy stretches, conscious of a closing Molosky.

"The last mile was brutal," said Niezgoda.

Vince Molosky
Vince Molosky

But Niezgoda endured, beating Molosky to the finish line 18:10 to 18:15. Coach Droze was third in 19:00, the top master runner in the race.

Despite the rugged course, the race and the Institute continue to draw the runners. Vince Molosky, for instance, had been at the first Hops and Half Shells 5K in 2016, and was running the 2018 event in spite of having just finished a 50 kilometer trail race in Torreya State Park a week earlier.

"I love it out here," said Molosky. "It's beautiful."

Gary Droze
Gary Droze

Coach Droze, who has run all three Hops and Half Shells races, wants to bring even more runners to the Institute. "I'd like to make this our home course and hold at least one meet out here each season," said Droze.

Kendall Ward, on the other hand, hadn't run at the Institute before Saturday. The Chiles High senior hadn't done much racing at all, having only recently taken up running after years of playing soccer.

"I'm not used to running on sand or grass," said Ward.

Christina Linton
Christina Linton

Nevertheless, Ward was leading the women's field for the first four kilometers of the five kilometer race, leaving behind the top woman from the previous year, Christina Linton.

"I didn't think I was going to catch her," said Linton. "But about two-and-a-half miles I did."

After overtaking Ward, Linton pulled away, running 22:59 and taking a second straight women's title. Ward was runner-up for the women, placing seventeenth overall in 23:19. Kathy Greene was the first woman master and third female finisher, twentieth overall in 23:39.

Kendall Ward
Kendall Ward

Ward may be seeing more of the Institute trails; after graduating Chiles she'll be running for Coach Droze's TCC cross-country squad. And where will Linton be racing next?

"The Palace Saloon 5K," said Linton.

That certainly shares a theme with the Hops and Half Shells race.

215 athletes finished the 2018 Hops & Half Shells 5K. Gulf Winds Track Club of Tallahassee, Florida chip-timed the race.

Top Ten Men, 2018 Hops And Half Shells 5K
  1. 18:10, Michael Niezgoda (M, 29)
  2. 18:15, Vince Molosky (M, 38)
  3. 19:00, Gary Droze (M, 56)
  4. 19:33, John Bikowitz (M, 32)
  5. 20:43, Gannon Hundley (M, 19)
  6. 20:48, John Schwenkler (M, 36)
  7. 20:58, Michael Martinez (M, 52)
  8. 21:17, Garrett Padgham (M, 34)
  9. 22:18, Adrian Mood (M, 30)
  10. 22:40, Peniel Scantlebury (M, 28)

Top Ten Women, 2018 Hops And Half Shells 5K
  1. 22:59, Christina Linton (F, 37)
  2. 23:19, Kendall Ward (F, 17)
  3. 23:39, Kathy Greene (F, 44)
  4. 23:56, Nancy Johnson (F, 44)
  5. 24:04, Katie Stolz (F, 28)
  6. 24:16, Ariel Urban (F, 27)
  7. 25:16, Lynn Varner (F, 53)
  8. 25:23, Madison Sims (F, 10)
  9. 25:24, Samantha Fillmore (F, 42)
  10. 25:25, Lauren Angnardo (F, 23)

Hops & Half Shells 5K winners, 2016 - 2018
23 April 201617:40, Zach DeVeau21:53, Katie Sherron319
22 April 201715:52, Stan Linton24:05, Christina Linton261
14 April 201818:10, Michael Niezgoda22:59, Christina Linton215


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