JACKSONVILLE – St. Johns Country Day School cross country runner Benjamin Kailes had his region championship race scripted out before he stepped on to the start line at Saturday’s region 1-1A …
JACKSONVILLE – St. Johns Country Day School cross country runner Benjamin Kailes had his region championship race scripted out before he stepped on to the start line at Saturday’s region 1-1A championship race at Cecil Field’s New World Golf course.
“I knew it was going to be me and Junious (Junious Brown of Tallahassee Maclay) up front,” said Kailes, who won the district 4-1A title in convincing fashion a week ago in 16:27.00 as Brown did in district 3-1A in 16:32.46. “I’ve been thinking about how to approach him all week because I knew he had a great finishing kick.”
From the opening gun, the pair bolted away from the field to create a 8-10 yard cushion behind another dueling pair in St. Johns’ Matthew Stratton and Providence’s Steven Cartwright, both freshmen, who battled to the second and third spots at last week’s districts with Cartwright edging Stratton at the finish.
“I knew from comparing times from last week, that it was going to be close,” said Brown, who was seventh at last year’s Class 1A championship race. “Benjamin was probably the only one I would have a situation with and have to handle.”
After the first loop of the two-loop course, Brown was a step ahead of Kailes and seemingly floating along waiting for a Kailes’ response.
“My plan was to get out front to the 800 meters mark and then relax and let him try to push the pace,” said Brown. “About midway, I was going to push my pace and see if he could stay with me.”
Both runners stayed within an arms length of each other until the final mile before Brown surged to the win in 15:46.51.
“I don’t like being the rabbit, but would rather stalk a guy,” said Kailes, who finished second in 15:57.92. “At about 2500 meters in, he started to go and push hard. I was thinking I might go by him, but he was putting down a quick pace.”
Stratton, who emerged behind Kailes with Cartwright and Xander Peacock of Blountstown in a three-man sprint to the finish, wound up fifth in 16:32.65 in his best time of the season. For the St. Johns team finish, it was a strong finish from Kailes’ younger brother Jacob at 16th in 17:25.71 and a best finish at 34th in 18:03.5 from senior David Gonzales that put the Spartans entire boys team on the state meet bus with a sixth place team finish. “I was on the finish final run in a group of guys and was running a little tactical and a little survival,” said Gonzales. “Coach Jay always tells us to pick guys off at the end for extra points.”
In the girls race, the Lady Spartans, pre-meet ranked sixth, according to Birmingham, got a season-best breakout performance from the young team’s elder in freshman Evelyn Hanson who ran her best time of the year for 39th place in 22:06.13.
“Evelyn and Hannah Marshall’s finishes were the key today,” said Birmingham. “We all know those fourth and fifth finishers are the difference in getting team points.”
With Hanson’s 39th finish and Marshall just six seconds behind her, the Lady Spartans advance to yet a 13th consecutive state meet with their third place finish behind Tallahasse Maclay and Bishop Snyder.
“That was a surprise,” said Birmingham of his third place team finish.”We had a great pack finish at districts and Evelyn and Hannah both stayed near at the end.”
Hanson did not plan her best finish to be a regions, but was glad she could contribute to the team. “It’s been two years since I’ve had a personal best time,” said Hanson. “I just kept thinking race hard and beat people. That finish was so long, but I could see a lot of people that I could pass.”
St. Johns got a top finish from eighth grader Kaitlyn Phillips for a second race; first at districts last week, in 15th place in 20:43.51 with seventh grader Sofia Conde right behind her at 16th in 20:44.51.
Eighth grader Juliet Moody snuck in past a handful of finishers for a 19th place finish in 21:13.91.
Bishop Snyder senior Gianna Forte reversed the district 4-1A finish with University of Christian freshman Laci Watford with a dominating win in 18:23.11. Watford, second at regions in 18:28.6, outsprinted Forte at districts to win in 18:50.0.