Stratton, Oakleaf explode in early track action

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 3/9/22

JACKSONVILLE - St. Johns Country Day School senior cross country ace Matthew Stratton showed off a bit of track season readiness with two outstanding distance races while the Oakleaf High girls track …

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Stratton, Oakleaf explode in early track action

Posted

JACKSONVILLE - St. Johns Country Day School senior cross country ace Matthew Stratton showed off a bit of track season readiness with two outstanding distance races while the Oakleaf High girls track team rocked Ponte Vedra with speed, endurance and high-flying talent.

Stratton, the Class 1A cross country champion last fall headed to the University of Florida next fall, opened up his season with a winning record-setting four minute 22.27 second 1600 meter run at the Bolles Bulldog Classic on Friday then followed up with an equally impressive 9:13.73 3200 meter race that featured a winning 9:03.94 split from Viera High senior Michael Toppi.

“I knew it would be a very competitive race with the people that were on the start line and I was hoping for a sub-4:20 time,” said Stratton, who took a bit of time off after his cross country season to nurse a minor achilles ache. “I think the time off did some good, but now I’m ready to start focusing on shorter speed workouts.’

The front end of the distance races at the Bolles meet featured a Who’s Who of state ranked athletes with Creekside’s Jesse Benavides in second in the mile and Fleming Island’s Alex Bendig a quick 4:29.67 for fifth place.

In 2021, the Class 1A mile was won in 4:21.54 by Oak Hall’s Austin Montini, the twice cross country state champion now at Yale University.

In the 3200, Toppi; second in Class 4A; Leon’s Patrick Koon, Class 3A champion, and Bolles’ Aidan Ryan, second in Class 2A, hammered away with Stratton in tow to four of the fastest times in the state in the very early stages of the 2022 season.

One of Stratton’s top area competitors is Montini’s brother Caden.

“He just ran a 4:16 and that will make the districts and regions interesting,” said Stratton. Also in the 3200 field, St. Johns Country Day School sophomore Graham Myers finished eighth in 9:29.99 with Fleming Island sophomore John Keester IV 12th in 9:31.47. Montini also won the Class 1A 3200 in 9:39.11 with Stratton third in 9:42.56.On Saturday, at Ponte Vedra High’s Craig Speziale Invitational, it was all Oakleaf High’s girls team that showed depth and balance in whisping away a team title against host Ponte Vedra, 134-125, with familiar faces returning to track prowess and a new face that could very well be the future of sprinting in Florida.

In the sprints, Oakleaf grabbed wins in the 200 from freshman Kaymin Sales with a dominating 25.92 over runnerup Kennedi DeVoux of Paxon’s 26.74.

Sales, who has run under the King’s Track Club directed by Oakleaf Junior High track guru Merlin Smith, ran 25.50 last week at the Danny Brown Invite at Bishop Snyder for third against that stellar field.

In her eighth grade season, Sales was the FLYRA Middle School State champion with a 25.81 personal record while finished eighth in the 400 at 59.27.

“She’s the real deal,” said Smith, who was ushering his newest Oakleaf Junior High squad at a tri-meet with Orange Park Junior and Lakeside Junior high schools at Ridgeview. “She’ll get faster times when she has the senior girls on her shoulders. She’s a great competitor.”

During cross country season two seasons ago, the Oakleaf High cross country team featured the shadow duo of Taylor Silkert and Sierra Barrera as consistent top finishers. Barrera, though, ran her junior season solo with Silkert concentrating on her track aspirations, but proved formidable with a 20:18.7 region 1-4A 17th place finish in a region that featured the top teams at the Class 4A championships a week later. At Ponte Vedra, Silkert and Barrera showed off that they may be back in tandem as a solid point-getting combo for the Lady Knights with Silkert fourth in the 400 at 1:02.81 and Barrera winning the 800 at 2:25.27 against a field with seven runners under 2:30.

Barrera returned to take third in the 1600 in 5:27.70 again in a field of state-ranked cross country finishers from November including a 1-2 finish from Lindy White and Ellie Moritz of Ponte Vedra’s Class 3A champion cross country team, and a fourth place finish from Laci Watford of University Christian; ninth in Class 1A.

With Sales out of the 100 at Ponte Vedra, Clay High’s Fiona Whitfield took third ahead of two Orange Park sprinters; hoops star Eris Lester, fourth and Falisha Celines in sixth with cross country runner Gabriella Barrios taking the win in the 3200.

In the jumps, Oakleaf returned with Arianna Eason showing her early readiness with wins in the long jump (17’-5”) and triple jump (39’-1”) with freshman teammate Madison Linscomb; both Oakleaf High weightlifting teammates, second in both jumps.

The Lady Blue Devils did not keep pace with the 1-2 finish of Oakleaf and Ponte Vedra, but finished third team with 57 points just ahead of Paxon’s 55.

Clay’s prowess came from thrower Annalee Harbison who won the shot put (36’-3”) and discus (122’-5”) with teammate Ashanti Jones winning the javelin for key team points. Harbison is a member of the Clay girls weightlifting state championship team with teammate Kenya Tinajero getting fifth in the shot and third in the discus.

Fleming Island High’s girls 4 x 800 returned to veterans to the track with Lauren Schaudel and Mei Chiang back on the track with Katie Thompson and Rees scott getting second to West Port in the event by just .11 seconds; 10:13.34-10:13.55.

At Bolles, Middleburg High weightthrower Wyatt Underwood continued his dominance with a win in the discus (150’-11”) and a sixth in the shotshot (45’-1.75”).

Middleburg also got a fifth place in pole vault (10’10”) from Chris Gray.

Ridgeview High sophomore high jumper T’Vario Willis won in 6’-2.75” while Fleming Island sophomore Gabrielle Flores won the girls high jump at 5’-1”.

In the boys races at Ponte Vedra, Orange Park’s speed proved lethal with Nolan Chambers winning the 100 and Lawrence Thomas winning the 200 in a battle with Oakleaf’s Amarrion Grant, 22.45-22.98. Thomas was fourth in the 100.

Orange Park won the 4 x 100 just .70 seconds ahead of Fleming Island with Fleming Island winning the 4 x 800 for the boys.

Next up is the Creekside High Invitational on Fri., March 11.

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