LAKE CITY - With top runners able to get ahead of the Fleming Island High girls running machine and take the first through five spots at the finish line, it was the group effort of coach Suzanne …
LAKE CITY - With top runners able to get ahead of the Fleming Island High girls running machine and take the first through five spots at the finish line, it was the group effort of coach Suzanne Baker’s team that had them primed for a stealthy assault both the region 1-4A championship race Saturday in Lake City and, also, on Saturday’s Class 4A championship race in Tallahassee.
“It is not quite official yet,” said Baker, as she awaited her fifth runner to be scored as the region 1-4A championship race unfolded at the finish line. “I know our first through fourth were separated by about 15 seconds. We’ve never done the district, region title thing then go to state.”
With freshman Allie Knotts trying to find the finish line as number five, Fleming Island’s front four machine of Emma Millson, Marisa Kortright, Mei Chiang and Grace Adams paved the way for at least a possible region title if not one of the top three teams to advance to the state meet.
Millson screeched out to the front pack right from the gun with Kortright just steps off her wing and Chiang hovering about five yards behind.
“I held back in the first mile because I went out too fast last week at districts,” said Millson, who apparently had fully recovered from a season ending foot stress fracture last year. “When we came out of the woods (at 1.5 miles), Marisa was nearby and kept me going. It’s great to have her close during the races. The last mile was pretty tough.”
Adams, the hero of last year’s state meet run with the top finish for Fleming Island, was chasing down from the front of the second pack at the turnaround point of the 3.1 mile trek at Lake City’s Alligator Park.
As Baker awaited the finish of the closely battled race, Niceville senior Lillian Holtery blew in as the winner in 19:11.80 with Creekside’s Elizabeth Iliff second in 19:14,60 and Flagler Palm Coast’s Jade Williams in third at 19:18.30. Fourth went to Nease senior Naila Etique with Chiles’ Kelly Davis fifth at 19:35.40. The aforementioned runners; Holtery (5th), Iliff (4th), Williams (9th) and Etique (7th) were in the same positions in 2019; with all positioned in the top 10 of last year’s race.
In 2019, Chiles was region champion ahead of Mandarin, Creekside and Niceville with Fleming Island seventh. Top finisher for Fleming Island was Grace Adams. Fleming Island was second in the region in 2018 to Lake Brantley.
“When our first one comes in, the rest are right behind her,” said Baker. “That’s the key.”
First of Fleming Island in was Millson, in 19:45.90, who has been the team’s point man in many races with Kortright, who recently committed to Florida Southern, sneaking in with a pack of runners at 11th in 20:04.60.
Number three, Chiang, was 13th in 20:10.00 with Adams right behind her in 20:14.70.
With seven different teams finishing runners in the top 10 spots, the counting of team points came quickly as Mandarin threw a counter punch with four runners in between 16 and 18.
“I am a numbers cruncher,” said Baker, after waiting for the final counts to be announced. “You just never know, but we know who to look for.”
As the rest of the top individual finishers teams saw teammates hit the finish line, including Oakleaf’s duo of Sierra Barrera at 20th and Taylor Silkert at 26th, Baker still waited for Knotts as team numbers started to fill up.
Mandarin’s fifth runner finished at 20:59.30 to tighten up Baker’s calculations with Niceville seeing three more finish, but Flagler only getting two more runners in before Knotts sprinted home in 44th place at 21:44.70 in front of two Niceville runners, a Chiles runner and a Flagler runner to seal the Fleming Island top spot.
In the final count, Fleming Island scored 81 to Mandarin’s 90 and Creekside’s 114 to take the title with Niceville snagging the fourth team qualifier spot.
For Barrera and Silkert, the season ended as both were out of the four individuals in not on one of the top four teams, but the duo were two of the most watched runners in Clay County.
In the boys race, Fleming Island senior Jayden Scherer, with Fleming Island finishing fifth in team points, was able to snag an individual qualifier spot with his 16th place finish in 17:18.60.
Chiles won the boys team title ahead of Creekside, Nease and Bartram Trail. Scherer was the third individual qualifier with runners from Buchholz, Ocala Forest and Mandarin getting the other three spots.