CLERMONT – In a field of cross country runners that shifted from a Pre-State meet in Tallahassee on the state meet course, the Fleming Island High girls cross country team, led by freshman Mei Chiang’s 19th overall place, took eighth behind the likes of Pine Crest (2A champions), Montverde Academy (third in 2A) and Creekside (second in 3A); all top three state finishers last year.
At Sandalwood’s Leslie Baker Invitational, Orange Park High senior John Bear blasted to a best-ever 16 minute, nine second finish for second place just a second behind winner Caden Monk of Buchholz. Oakleaf High’s Dylan Nelson also ran a fast split with a 16:43 for third place with Ridgeview senior Joel Nesi also under 17 minutes with a 16:54 for fourth place.
The Pre-state Invitational originally slated for the Tallahassee state meet course was cancelled due to Hurricane Michael to put many of those teams in Clermont.
In the girls elite race, with the top three runners finishing under 18 minutes, Chiang was one of just four north Florida runners; three from Creekside, to crack the top 20 finishers. Chiang finished in a new Fleming Island High record of 19 minutes, 19 seconds, one second faster than her 19:20 record set two weeks ago.
Pine Crest’s Tsion Yared, the defending 2A champion, won in 17:20.91 with Holy Trinity’s Carly McNatt, sixth in 1A last year, second in 17:24.14 and The Villages’ Rebecca Clark, sixth in 2A last year, third in 17:28.67.
Creekside’s girls team, second in 3A last year, was led by junior Claire Openshaw, third in 3A, who finished fifth overall in 18:13.39 as the top north Florida finisher. Creekside had finishers at 13th and 18th before Chiang ran in at 19th.
For Fleming Island, freshman Lauren Schaudel emerged as the second Golden Eagle finisher at 47th in 20:09.80 with her Green Cove Springs Junior High teammate Grace Adams next in at 54th in 20:22.58. Sophomore Emma Millson was in at 59th in 20:26.59 at number four with junior Jennifer Fliess fifth finisher in 65th at 20:37.26.
In class 4A, where Fleming Island will do battle in the upcoming district championships, George M. Steinbrenner High’s Alexandria Straumann finished 15th in 18:51.95. Fleming Island finished behind G. Holmes Braddock High of Miami, last year’s third place finisher in Class 4A., but ahead of St. Thomas Aquinas, seventh in 4A last year.
For the boys, without the legs of sophomore Kameron Wallizada, Fleming Island finished 13th overall with Belen Jesuit Prep the top team with four runners in the top 10.
Fleming Island got a top finish from Landon Opp who finished 51st in 17:16.78. Winner Jonathan Reid of Lakewood Ranch, 10th in Class 4A last year, won in 15:46.65 with two other runners finishing under 16 minutes and the top 31 runners under 17 minutes. Defending 4A champion Benjamin Hartvigsen ws fourth in 16:18.87.
Opp was followed by teammate Will Livesay, 60th in 17:21.49; Jayden Scherer, 74th in 17:38.78; Ethan Heagle, 81st in 17:45.15 and John Brinkman, 92nd in 17:50.88.
Belen Jesuit, the defending 3A champions, scored an incredible 37 team points with Fleming Island netting 326 in the stacked field.