As she stepped out of the finish area at the Flrunners.com Invitational 13 cross country meet Saturday morning, Merritt Island High School freshman Monet Madeux looked around and smiled.
“I’m pretty impressed,” said Madeux, who had just finished 132nd in the Race of Champions, her first major competition as a varsity harrier. “This is big.”
So it was, with more than 4,600 high school, college and club runners and thousands more coaches and spectators. They crowded the area behind Brevard Community College and Chain of Lakes Park to participate in a two-day event that was more of a cross country festival than merely a series of races, with music, dance contests and vendors, as well as running.
Its 20 events culminated in the boys and girls Races of Champions, generally judged to be a good portion of the Florida high school championships, with the top-10 runners from state-caliber teams permitted to qualify.
Emily Edwards took a comfortable victory among girls at 17:43.80 and Carlos Miranda of Palmetto Ridge finished first among boys at 15.07.90. Top team finishers were perennial power Belen Jesuit, whose 87 points topped all boys; and Estero, whose girls defended their championship with 75 points.
Edwards confessed she didn’t realize she’d won the race until it was over.
“I started a little too slow … and kept second-guessing myself, but I kept telling myself, ‘You’ve got to have confidence,’ and I did. … It just sort of came up on me and I didn’t realize how well I did until I passed the finish line,” she said.
She defeated Nikita Shah of Wiregrass Ranch (17:48.50), Julia Montgomery of Pine Crest (17.52.60), Bryce Seymour of Hagerty (18:00.80) and Kacy Smith of Estero (18.04.80).
The top finisher among Brevardians was Sarah Day of West Shore, who finished sixth at 18:14.40. Sarah Hammond of Merritt Island was 26th at 19:17.
Hammond, who grabbed a personal-best time in the race, said she accomplished her goal to break 19:30.
“I secretly wanted to break 19, but I did my best,” she said
Miranda, who was challenged by Belen’s Avery Lopez (15:13.20) throughout the race, pronounced himself “elated” after his finish, a personal-best time. Daniel Salas of Trinity Prep (15:17.60) was followed by Nicholas Morken of Niceville (15:31.50) and Tyler Bennett of Fort Myers (15.33.10).
Costa Stathis of Cocoa Beach placed highest among Brevardians, 21st at 16:09.30, another personal best.
“That was a good race and a good course,” he said. “I am pleased because this is one of the biggest races in Florida. It is huge.”
In team competition, Merritt Island was eighth with 214 points, the sole top-10 finisher among girls. The best local school on the boys’ side was Cocoa Beach, which placed 15th at 330 points.
Young Brevardians fared particularly well in the Publix Invitational, the second-tier elite race, with Holly Wooley (19:21.70) and Emily Chapman (19:47.40) of Brevard Heat finishing third and eighth respectively among girls. Maleia Storum of Cocoa Beach (19:57.40) was eighth.
The exuberant Xavier Walton of host team Titusville didn’t disappoint the home crowd in the boys’ invitational, finishing second at 16:18.10.
“Oh, yes, it is my best time, by about 30 seconds,” the overjoyed Wooley said after she received her award on a stage provided by Brevard Parks and Recreation. “At the start of the third mile, I started to pick it up.”