JACKSONVILLE - The St. Johns Country Day School cross country program; both boys and girls, has had a historic trend of annual visits to the FHSAA Class 1A championship races under long-time coach …
JACKSONVILLE - The St. Johns Country Day School cross country program; both boys and girls, has had a historic trend of annual visits to the FHSAA Class 1A championship races under long-time coach Jay Birmingham and now under present coach Greg Stratton with nearly two decades of bus rides to Tallahassee and beyond.
"I think Jay Birmingham had 12 in a row with his girls teams," said Stratton, who started six years ago after Birmingham headed to the mountains of North Carolina. "We had six in a row until last year with the boys. The girls had 13 in a row under coach Jay, then we broke the streak for the last two years and went last year. Maybe we started another streak."
At the region 1-1A championships, held Friday at the New World Golf Course in Cecil Field, Stratton got sterling performances from his girls' team, led by junior daughter Rebecca Stratton, but strengthened by the extraordinary run of seventh grader Kate Staten.
"She's very humble like when she won a local 5K and never told me and I read it in the Clay Today," said Stratton. "I remember when Matthew was just a seventh grader and he was here running for coach Birmingham and coach telling him not to think about the high school kids around him, but to run his race."
Staten was very complimentary of her teammates when talking about her season.
"I have some great memories already with my teammates," said Staten, who competed as a sixth grader on the St. Johns state team last year. "I was at a 24:26 best time, but now I'm near the 21-minute mark. This is probably my best race of the season."
Stratton mention of son Matthew Stratton, a cross country state champion as a senior now at the University of Florida, in relationship to Staten seemed appropriate as the tiny Staten finished right behind junior teammate Kaitlyn Sunderhaus; 23rd and 24th, to give the Lady Spartans a solid fourth place team finish.
Up front, powerhouses Tallahassee Maclay and Pensacola Christian were duking it out; Maclay sophomore Carolina Couch winning in 18:16.20 and Pensacola putting the next five runners in for a dominating team title, 20-52. Providence finished third at 80 with St. Johns fourth at 130.
For the boys, St. Johns senior Richard Nichols, who while complimenting his underclass teammates; three sophomores, a freshman, and an eighth grader, for a strong season effort, got word that his strong 19th place finish in 17:44.60 and some effort behind him got the Spartan boys a seventh place finish ahead of Blounstown High and their ticket to Tallahassee. Pensacola Christiand and Providence battled to a 41-42 first-second finish with Maclay third with 82.
"Wow, that was emotional," said a relieved Nichols, learning of St. Johns' 217 points for seventh place. "These guys have worked hard all season and I knew if I had a strong race, got some up front points, they would need to give me their best efforts to get us to Tallahassee. I always believed in them and they delivered."
Behind Nichols were sophomores Wyatt Hollingsworth and Arlo Kistner in 45th and 48th, eighth grader Marcus Giles in 58th, and sophomore Griffin Dubnansky in 62nd.
"Not everyone knows that cross country is a team game," said Nichols. "I tried to be the captain that these young guys needed to keep getting better against stronger competition."
Stratton reminded his boys that the region race the next race and the final two races for them.
"We didn't have much room for error with the boys and I had talked with Wyatt, a heart-to-heart," said Stratton. "I told him he had the breakout season last year, but has not had one before this region race. He had that breakout race today."