TALLAHASSEE - St. Johns Country Day School senior cross country runner Matthew Stratton is just weeks away from answering the call to a title after successive near-misses at the Florida Class 1A …
TALLAHASSEE - St. Johns Country Day School senior cross country runner Matthew Stratton is just weeks away from answering the call to a title after successive near-misses at the Florida Class 1A cross country state championship races. Stratton has a third place finish and a second place finish at the previous two races with great finishing surges falling just short at the finish line.
“We were cruising along in good position and had a good finish,” said St. Johns Country Day School coach Greg Stratton. “This was just a little looksy at the state course.”
Greg Stratton’s relationship with son Matthew is a unique combination of family, business and fun, said Matthew Stratton.
“It’s been a great help in a huge way to have my dad as my coach over the last six or seven years,” said Stratton. “We can get real personal and talk about things, training and mindset that would be different if my coach was not my dad. He brings an interesting perspective because he knows me personally as well as running-wise.”
At the Florida State University Pre-State Invitational, held Saturday at the Florida state championship course at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, an extremely challenging, hilly course, Stratton finished third overall in the elite race behind two highly ranked state runners; Patrick Koon of 3A-Leon High, the meet winner in 15:09.80, and Michael Toppi of 4A-Viera High, in 15:13.10. Stratton strode in in third at 15:16.90 with a third low 15 minute finish in the past three races.
“I definitely held back in the first mile, but my experience on that course is to hold back a bit, then push the pace later in the race,” said Stratton. “We hit 4:52 at the first mile and I started to turn it on in the second half of the race.”
Koon, just a sophomore, was fifth in the Class 3A championship race last year in 15:55.5 and is expected to be on the podium this year. Leon was 11th in 3A.
Toppi, fifth in Class 4A last year in 16:55.6, helped Viera to a second place team finish with Columbus of Miami winning by just five points. Bartram Trail and Chiles finished third and fourth.
“I’ve moved my thought process to not being just one of the best runners in Class 1A, but to be able to run with the best in the state,” said Stratton. “I’ve been able to run against great runners like Rheinhart Harrison (Nease, two times 4A champion) and the great runners from around here.”
For Stratton, third last year to two-time Class 1A champion Austin Montini of Oak Hall, finishing third last year in 15:59.8 on the Appalachee course was a matter of maybe starting his finishing surge a little too late.
“Right now, it’s just about getting it done; first, first, first, just get the win,” said Stratton. “I’m not worried as much about the time, but the race has become my focus. To be able to be with the leaders and be strong at the end.”
Stratton also entered the Pre-State meet with an impressive win at the also-hilly Bobcat Classic hosted by Buchholz High last week with a 15:42 split. SJCDS teammate Grham Myers, a sophomore, continues to improve with a third at 16:28.30.
The two closest Class 1A runners at the Pre-State meet were Montini’s younger brother Caden, a junior, who was 20th last year in 16:57.4. Caden Montini finished 16th on Saturday in 15:46.10 while Indian Rocks Christian senior Mateo Luna finished 14th in 15:43.40. Luna was 11th last year at the Class 1A championship in 16:40.
Circle Christian junior Jack DeJesus was 20th in 15:51.70 at the Pre-State meet. DeJesus was 14th in Class 1A in 16:45.5.
“We have a couple of neighborhood hills around here that we use to train for hills,” said Stratton. “Having Graham with me is a blessing because he keeps me sharp; he’s just a step or two away from being on my shoulder.”
At the Pre-State meet, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School won the team title over Bolles and Berkeley Prep with Jesuit’s top runner taking eighth overall.
Seffner Christian, the defending Class 1A champion, did not race in Tallahassee on Saturday.
Also in the boys race, Fleming Island High finished 28th led by John Keester IV who ran 16:48.20 to take 80th.
Fleming Island’s girls team finished 12th led by Allie Knotts’ 45th place finish at 19:54.20. Fleming Island senior Grace Adams was in at 56th in 20:13.00. Winner in the girls race, which feature 18 sub-19 minute times and two sub-18 minute finishes, was Caroline Wells of Winter Springs in 17:10.70 with Bolles junior Jillian Candelino second at 17:36.50.
Fleming Island, sixth in Class 4A team with two runners now in college; Emma Millson at University of North Florida (25th last year) and Marisa Kortright at Florida Southern (29th last year), plus the absence of senior Mei Chiang (33rd last year) on the team for reasons unknown, returned just Knotts and Adams from that district/region champion team.
In a last-chance tuneup raced at Ridgeview High, Ridgeview High got a 1-2 finish from junior Julio Rodriguez and James Snipes (17:49, 17:56) with Middleburg next with Dylan Anderson and Logan Moore (18:15, 18:23) as the Panthers took team honors in the five team field at Ridgeview High School.
For the girls race, Columbia High’s Audrey Fender jupset the Clay High party with a winning time of 21:39 to oust a 2-3-4 finish from Gabriella Barrios, Savannah Hill and Kaygen Williams; 21:48, 21:56, 22:04) with Orange Park’s Hope Carter fifth in 22:31.
District meets start October 25th:
District 2-2A (Keystone Heights): Hosted by Bishop Kenny at Bishop Kenny HS, Wed., Oct. 27, 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m.
District 2-1A (SJCDS): Hosted by Maclay School at Apalachee Regional Park, Tallahassee, Thurs., Oct. 28 9 a.m., 9:40 a.m.
Matthew Stratton clearly on the path to another podium finish at the state meet, but negotiating the district and region meet is dad/coach Greg Stratton’s task to keeping Stratton and even Graham Myers and company sharp to the very end. St. Johns has a long history of best county finishes at state.
District 1-4A (Oakleaf): Hosted by Bartram Trail High School at New World Sports Complex, Thursday, Oct. 28, 9 a.m.
Oakleaf High’s Sierra Barerra’s appearance at any race is a need of concern for those at the finish as her 800 meter closing speed is lethal to garner a few extra spots at the finish. She did outkick Fleming Island’s Knotts at Middleburg so is on target for a low 19 minute/18 minute finish somewhere in post season. With some of the class of the state at the 1-4A district of doom, Barerra will need an 18 to get to regions with Bartram Trail, Buchholz, Niceville and Creekside all taking team podium shots.
District 2-3A (Clay, Fleming Island, Orange Park, Ridgeview, Middleburg): Hosted by Ponte Vedra High School at Ponte Vedra HS, Sat., Oct. 30 7:30 a.m., 8 a.m.
Could be best race of year for Clay County runners with Ridgeview’s James Snipes, the overall winner at the Craig Speziale Invite at Ponte Vedra two weeks ago, battling with Fleming Island’s John Keester IV and the Clay foursome of Hill, Damme, Blackburn and Williamson duking with the Fleming Island front three of Knotts, Schaudel and Adams to try and podium with state powers from St. Johns County; Ponte Vedra and St. Augustine. Middleburg is led by 1-2 Molly Burt (22:34 at RHS meet), while Orange Park newcomer Hope Carter (22:31 at RHS) has been slowly nearing top 20 finishes.
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