LAKE CITY— This fall’s cross country season has seen a series off firsts for Leon junior Matthew Cashin.
He’d not won a race prior to this year, but he was also walled up behind the talent of graduated runners Sukhi Khosla (Oklahoma State) and Hunter Scott (Florida State).
Cashin didn’t even start the season as the Lions’ No. 1, but he’s definitively there now.
At Alligator Lake, Cashin won a Region 1-3A title in 16:06, leading Leon back to the state meet and setting up some big expectations to close his exciting season.
“Last year, we were working really hard to get the team a state title and I had an OK year, but this year I just started working hard and pushing it in workouts,” Cashin said. “I stayed hard through my runs. I’d have that good soreness in my legs and knew I’d pushed myself.”
Cashin won the District 3-3A meet at Apalachee Regional Park, but doing it against an even bigger field was a new challenge.
He sprinted past Creekside junior Matthew Clark on the final straightaway, winning by one second.
Teammate Adam Wallenfelsz finished third in 16:16 and the Lions finished fourth as a team.
“I saw the rankings before the season and I was 10-15, but now I’m top 5,” Cashin said. “It’s crazy how I’ve jumped that much. It baffles me a little bit. I can’t believe it.
“Every week I’m slowly moving up. To beat Matthew Clark who is definitively top 3 and know I can out-kick him, it gives me a lot of motivation to be at least top 3 at state.”
Chiles senior Austin Dodson and sophomores Matthew Newland and Michael Phillips finished 5-6-7, leading the Timberwolves (80 points) to a region runner-up finish behind Creekside (45).
“I think we’re really improving,” Dodson said. “We’ve had some good meets this year heading into state, but state is the meet we’re shooting for. Of course you want to win every race you’re in, but the big goal was qualifying for state and winning the one next week.”
The Timberwolves are the defending two-time state champions, but like last year’s runner-up Leon they lost a lot of quality seniors, including Georgia Tech freshman Avery Bartlett.
If Chiles were to three-peat it would be an amazing accomplishment. It’s not impossible, but it is improbable.
“It’s always great to win a state title,” Dodson said. “I don’t think we’re trying to live up to what they had because they’re one of the greatest teams of all time, but this is a great team, a young team and any win is great for us.”
Class 3A girls
The last few times Chiles senior Emma Tucker and Columbia sophomore Bridget Morse raced each other, Tucker nipped Morse at the finish line, including once at the Alligator Lake Invitational.
Saturday’s race saw Morse beat Tucker but lose to Ponte Vedra sophomore Claire Moritz.
For Tucker, that meant third place in 18:54. Timberwolves senior Alexandra Wallace was seventh in 19:17 and sophomore Ana Wallace was 16th, helping Chiles to a second-place team finish by just nine points behind region winner Niceville.
The Timberwolves rounded out their scoring with 25th and 30th place finishes by freshman Emily Culley and sophomore Erin Phelps, respectively.
“We wanted to do well for sure, and we did, but next week is what we’re going after,” Tucker said. “We’re racing smart and putting a good amount of effort in, but ultimately it’s next week.”
Leon and Lincoln’s seasons ended short of the state meet. The Lions’ highest finisher was freshman Katherine Resavage in 28th.
Class 2A girls
For the first time since 2000, Florida High’s girls cross country team is advancing to the state meet, paced by sixth grader Tonie Morgan’s 12th place finish. The Seminoles finished fifth. The top six teams moved on to next Saturday’s climax at Apalachee Regional Park.
“A very long time and we’re extremely young,” said Florida High coach Tyrone McGriff, who added cross country to his plate for the first time after helming the track team in recent years. “A lot of them didn’t know what to expect coming into this year with the coaching change. I kind of got thrown into the fire. Over the summer we didn’t get our miles in like we should have, so it’s been slow progress getting our base training.”
Several of the girls came over from McGriff’s elementary track program at the K-12 school. Morgan was one, and she wasn’t going to do it unless McGriff was coaching.
McGriff noted how she already has speed training and accomplished form even at her age, and while Morgan admitted she’d much rather run 400 meters than a 3.2-mile race, she’s thoroughly enjoyed her first season.
“It feels real good,” said Morgan, who was running since she was 3. “I just love the competition. I started because I thought it’d help with my 400 time. I like (cross country) now, but not more than shorter distance.”
Wakulla missed out on making state as a team, finishing in seventh, but War Eagles junior Haleigh Martin advanced individually by finishing in sixth, a spot better than last year and in a season-best time of 19:52. She chased from behind Bolles’ extraordinary top 4, which in some ways resembles the other races she’s in that Maclay is also running.
“I’m very happy,” Martin said. “I like to pace off a big pack like that. I just have to keep on training. Coach had just told me the money is in the big, so I just keep going. I really think if I keep training I can be faster.”
Class 2A boys
The Rickards’ boys team and specifically seniors Solomon Stevens and Evan Garrison had eyes on breaking the school record and advancing as a tandem to the state meet, which would be a school first.
Stevens and Garrison, crossing in 11th and 12th place respectively, accomplished both feats together, though Stevens in 17:09 gets the edge by a second in the record books over his training partner.
“My main goal was to keep up with Bolles and we caught maybe one or two of their varsity guys,” Garrison said. “After the second mile, I was kind of dying, so I just put a picture in my head of the medals and said, ‘Top 15, top 15.’ We put it in gear for the sprint and caught maybe one or two more guys. I knew for sure we were top 15, I just wanted to be top 10.”
Wakulla got through to the state meet with a fifth-place finish, placing all five scorers within the top 36 runners. War Eagles junior Bryce Cole crossed first in 21st in 17:34.
Regardless for Rickards, it is pleased with its progress as a program and for Stevens and Garrison it means they get to walk away their senior years knowing they have left it in better shape than when they began.
Stevens, who had to return from injury during the year, also got caught up on the unfortunate of four straight false starts by region champion Bolles. Each time, the runners had to reset after sprint outs.
“The adversity that had to be overcame, and especially starting over and over again, we just overcame it,” Stevens said. “We put up a great fight. We ran really fast. I just knew I needed to do this not only for my teammates, for myself and for everyone that’s supported me along the way. Finally, putting Rickards on the map. Finally getting some respect for our school. It just feels great.”
Class 1A girls
She may only be in seventh grade, but Maclay’s Lindsay James has been running with a charisma of a senior. And she only picked up running the sport two years ago to build strength for soccer.
Then she found an affinity towards cross country. She loves it a lot more now after taking third in the Region 1-1A meet in 19:23.
“I don’t know what it is, but I just love this sport,” James said. “It’s so fun. All the people that are here are so happy to be here, and that makes me so happy.”
James was sixth last year, but in 20:18. This year the performance highlighted a Marauders’ regional title. Junior Caroline Willis was fifth in 19:33. Rachel Rumana, Molly McCann and Katie Whitworth finished in the top 20, helping Maclay beat Providence by 13 points.
“Last year, I wasn’t very experienced,” James said. “I didn’t know what to do, so I just tried to stay with everyone because everyone was together in a pack. Today, I wasn’t going for time. I was going for place and finish top 10 like last year. I’m pretty surprised. I felt good, so I just stayed at that pace until the end. I never knew it would turn out like this.”
Class 1A boys
There’s a bit of sadness for Maclay sophomore James McClure. His career as a Marauder is coming to an end.
That’s not a typo— during the season he found out he’d be moving to Indianapolis once the semester ended. While he ultimately will be attending school at Carmel High, the nation’s No. 1 cross country program, the Maclay foursome that’s been leading the charge all year will be broken up.
That made Saturday’s Region 1-1A title all the more sweet, and it’s the reason he and senior George Gwynn, freshman Clay Milford and junior Jake Mazziotta will be amped up to end what they’ve started: Claiming Maclay’s first boys cross country title since 2002, the last of five consecutive state titles won.
“I’m disappointed that this was the second to last race I’d run in a Maclay singlet and I ran bad,” McClure said, “but next week will be my last race running for Maclay and I’m going to want to kill it.”
Milford, Gwynn and McClure finished 3-4-5, while Aucilla Christian junior Gatlin Nennstiel was sixth to claim an individual spot in the state meet. Mazziotta was ninth, then Maclay watched senior Aneesh Rahangdale fight through side stitches to come in 34th as the very important fifth scorer.
North Florida Christian senior Chase Savary qualified for the state meet as well, crossing in 10th.
Even though Maclay didn’t feel as a unit and as individuals that it ran its best race, the Marauders were still nine points better than Bishop Snyder and 35 points better than Trinity Christian.
“We really, really want this,” McClure said. “We’re killing ourselves every day. The last three weeks of training have been rough, not a lot of quality (race times), but it’ll pay off. We’re cutting no corners. We want this more than anything.”