JACKSONVILLE - Fleming Island High senior Emma Millson and St. Johns Country Day School junior Matthew Stratton had top performances with both getting top 10 finishes at the uber-competitive Cecil Field Summer Classic Cross Country Invitational held Friday night at Cecil Field’s New World Golf Course. The meet was the first competition amidst a summer of indecisiveness concerning the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and the starting of high school sports in Florida.
“In general, I think the meet and the very strong field of competition that arrived, showed that despite what others may say about the restrictions of the COVID, the community is ready to get back on the field,” said meet director Richard Fannin. “The bottom line is that we put on a great meet and those that had reservations were very welcome to not attend. Everyone here, I think, had a great time, we had just a few minor incidents enforcing the mask rules, but all in all, everything went smoothly.”
The meet, the first major cross country competition in north Florida with regard to the COVID-19 restrictions, went off flawlessly under the direction of Fannin and a very cooperative weather pattern that skirted the course with no more than a light sprinkle about an hour before competition was unleashed.
“We couldn’t have asked for a cooler night to have such great competition and the rain never got to us,” said Fannin. “The kids have been couped up all summer with no racing and this was a chance to just unleash. And, they did.”
With top runners Isabella Babilonia of Viera High for the girls and Bradley Ball for Nease High School, who was second in Class 4A last year, leading the front runners to course record times, the times registered for the top 10 finishers in each race; girls and boys, were astounding. Babilonia was a 17th place finish in Class 4A last year with a 18:59.80 time on the very hilly Tallahassee state meet course. Babilonia torched the fast field with a record split of 18:38 to beat Bolles’ Maxine Montoya by more than a minute. Montoya, fifth in Class 1A last year in 18:25.74, was second to Babilonia at 19:13. Bolles had four girls in the top 10; Montoya, Ella Mickler, eighth in 1A last year, third in 19:18; Maddie Prop, sixth in 19:25 and Jillian Candelino, 12th in 1A, eighth in 19:39.
“I think we had up to seven runners in both races break the course record and Isabella broke the record by nearly a minute,” said Fannin. “We were unfortunate not to have Nease’s top runner; 4A champion Rheinhart Harrison, race up front (finished 55th) after he set a national high school mile record of 4:01 a few weeks ago, but his teammate set the tone and held off for the one-second win in the boys race in 15:33 over Michael Toppi, also of Viera High, outkicked by just one second.”
Toppi, who was 59th in Class 4A last year in 16:34.75, finished with an astounding 15:34 to Ball.
For the boys, third place went to Michael Fiore of Lauderdale High, ninth in 4A last year, with St. Johns Matthew Stratton, second in 1A last year, getting fourth in 15:56.
“Four guys under 16 minutes in a preseason race means the summer training was intense,” said Fannin. “The top 20 boys were all under 17 minutes. The top 19 girls were under 20 minutes. That is some fast running for this early.”
For the girls, with Bolles dominating the team score, Viera and Fleming Island duked it out for the runnerup and third place finish with Viera; behind Bolles’ 36 points, scoring 73 and Fleming Island scoring 81.
For the Golden Eagles, senior Emma Millson stormed to the top spot for her team with a 19:42 split for seventh place after returning to the lineup after a series of injuries took her out of competition for the past year. Right behind Millson, Grace Adams, Fleming Island’s top finisher at the Class 4A meet last year at 54th, came in at 10th for second Fleming Island with Mei Chiang, 56th at the 4A meet, the third in for the Golden Eagles at 20:01.
Marisa Kortright and Kaitlyn Scherer finished out Fleming Island’s top five; in 20:35 and 21:05, respectively.
Ponte Vedra was fourth at 159 points with top finisher Lauren Bing fourth in 19:21.
In the boys team scores, Viera edged out Bolles with 64 points to 75 points with Bolles’ top finisher; Cole Rutkowski, fifth in 2A last year in 16:01, seventh in 16:20.
Fleming Island’s boys team, led by incoming freshman John Keester IV’s 36th place top finisher spot in 17:30, finished 10th with 280 points.
Stratton’s St. Johns team finished 15th with the Cecil Flyers; a Bishop Snyder strong team, 16th.
For the Leafy Oak team, an Oakleaf area club, brothers Graham and Logan Myers, sons to masters stalwart Gary Myers, finished 56th and 65th in 17:57 and 18:09. Gary Myers finished 10th in the open race in 18:26.
In the junior varsit/open adult race, which was a combined first race of the night, Justin Greene, a Flagler College standout, won over Christian Conder, a New Zealander, with a 15:40 to 16:01 split with former Ridgeview High star Joel Nesi, now at Flagler College, third in 16:05.
First female was Lydia McRae in 17th at 19:27 with Allison Gubitz, 22nd, second female at 20:11.