JACKSONVILLE – Ridgeview High cross country coach Al Nesi, Jr, got a rare glimpse of his son Joel in an emotional hug that transcended two years of turmoil for the pair as Joel Nesi, a senior cross …
JACKSONVILLE – Ridgeview High cross country coach Al Nesi, Jr, got a rare glimpse of his son Joel in an emotional hug that transcended two years of turmoil for the pair as Joel Nesi, a senior cross country runner for dad Al at Ridgeview, culminated a four year quest to make it to the state cross country championships on Saturday in the Region 1-2A championships held at Cecil Field’s New World Golf Course.
“I can’t even talk,” said an emotionally drained Al Nesi. “We’ve been through a lot; me, Joel, the family and the team. I can’t tell you how I feel. I’m so proud of Joel to get to this point.”
Nesi, who had lost his wife, Jodi, a year ago to a tragic boating accident, has soldiered on with son Joel in trying to fulfill a lifelong dream of Jodi Nesi; to see Joel run a state championship race.
“I have used the inspiration from Heaven to keep strong for my mom,” said Joel Nesi, moments after he finished ninth at the region 1-2A championship race to complete the journey to the state championship race on Sat., Nov. 3 in Tallahassee. “It’s surreal, but I was out of it at the halfway point (17th place, top 15 advance to state) and I just told myself I wasn’t going to fail. It had been too tough a journey.”
Nesi, who had teammate Keith Kelley as the lone two Ridgeview runners to advance from districts a week ago, settled in behind the dominating force of Bolles High School’s front running team with overall champion Charles Hicks blitzing the field with a 14 minute, 53.11 second effort
“It was tempting to go out and try to stay with them, but dad and I talked last night and decided to wait out the first mile, then get in under the top 15,” said Nesi, who sprinted in to finish at 16:29.2, a personal best time. “I was a little worried about being a little too far back because they went out so fast so I just put the hammer down to keep picking guys off. In other races, I’ve fallen off the second to third mile. Finally, I got there.”
Kelley finished 24th in 17:13.4 in his best region finish.
In the girls race, the Ridgeview High girls team all advanced with their third place finish at districts behind lead runner Anna Magruder, but it was a surprising finish from Hayley Schaefer, normally the third finisher for the Lady Panthers, who battled through a gauntlet of runners in the straight 200 meter finish to get 57th overall in 23:39.15 as the top Ridgeview finisher.
Ridgeview finished 10th of 11 teams in the girls race.