UF Mt. Dew Invitational Preview: Tons Of Talent Heads To Gainesville

Gainesville, FL- What a topsy turvy season it has been thus far? Nothing has gone by the predicted script and favorites are getting beaten in the early part of the season. Earlier schedule start? Course conditions? Weather conditions? Injuries? So many parameters to consider that it is hard to tell if a new trend will play out again this week or those decorated runners have shaken off the rust to return to the form that saw them at the top of the podium.

This week’s “big meet” will be on The Mark Bostick Golf Course on the University of Florida campus which is known to be challenging given the softer grass and multiple hills which are spread throughout. 72 teams are entered on the girl’s side and 69 on the boys teams will gather on a predicted steamy 90+% humidity and 75+ degree morning. Conditions have been dry this week, so the course surface may be more firm for better footing and performances across the board.

Girl’s individual preview

This week’s field is peppered with preseason individual state championship favorites who have gotten off to varied starts.

Junior Julie Wollrath  finished second at the Katie Caples Invitational last weekend on the Bishop Kenny campus in Jacksonville where she posted the fastest time, 18:57, of Saturday’s entries on a “slow” course to place second behind this season’s upstart Karen Xiang of Nease(St. Augustine).

Senior, Emily Edwards (Fort Myers), 2013 FHSAA 3A 1600m champion, has had a rough go of it in her first two outings. Suffering from a cold, she collapsed at the finish line after winning at the Estero DDD Invitational and was carried off. One week later Araceli Leon (Estero, Fort Myers) reversed the 1-2 finish to defeat Edwards by 4 seconds at the Fort Myers Optimist Invitational. Leon is also entered in Saturday’s race and is a dark horse.

Sophomore Alexa Cruz, of St. Thomas Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale (pictured above), the 2012 4A state runner-up behind Foot Locker qualifier Bridget Blake (Dr. Phillips, Orlando), was the top returnee in class 4A and is the defending meet champion. In her opener, she finished second to Julia Montgomery (Pine Crest, Fort Lauderdale) at the Fort Lauderdale City Championships in a time of 19:35. Montgomery finished 4th at Katie Caples behind Wollrath and just ahead of Britney Olinger of Oak Hall so it remains to be seen if Cruz will continue to be the favorite for the state championship title.

Senior Alex Eaton (Shorecrest Prep,St. Petersburg) should welcome a firmer surface after a 1st place finish on the muddy Indian Rocks Christian course in a solid time of 19:40. The 2012 FHSAA 1A Cross Country Finals 3rd placer will mix it up with the top 1A teams and get a good idea of how she compares.

After hammering home the final few laps of the 2013 FHSAA 1A 3200m final for the win, Sarah Candiano (Evangelical Christian, Fort Myers) has finished 4th at the DDD Invitational and 7th at the Fort Myers Optimist Invitational in times well off her best of 18:29 for last year’s 1A Cross Country runner-up. With seven weeks remaining in the season, Candiano and the others have plenty of time to train and improve their times. Saturday is just one step in many that they will take.

Girl’s Team Preview

2012 FHSAA 4A Cross Country team champions, St. Thomas Aquinas, won the Fort Lauderdale City Championships Tuesdayclaiming five of the top ten places and scoring an ultra low  team score of 25 points. The cast which was ranked #1, All Classification in the preseason, was different than the one used last fall’s title win, the first in school history. Marina Brayon-Moore, last year’s 4th runner at state was noticeably absent. We’ll see if she returns to the line-up on Saturday or will return later. Still the Raiders are formidable with Alexa Cruz, Christina Kalis, Brianna Rischar, Megan Schloss and Lily Kloepfer owning bests under19:43. A strong performance on Saturday could slam the door on the other favorites seeking the 2013 UF Mtn Dew Title.

After traveling to the Jacksonville area twice in as many weeks, Oak Hall will get a chance to sleep in a bit later for their first meet at “home.” The Eagles ranked #2 in Class 1A slipped past #1 Class 1A Holy Trinity last week by ten points to take the hotly contested Katie Caples team title. #3 Class 1A Providence(Jacksonville) who finished 5th at last week’s Katie Caples and #4 Shorecrest Prep are also entered in Saturday’s race giving a preview of the outcome of the FHSAA Cross Country State Finals in November.

Based on the 2013 season, Winter Park (pack of Wildcats pictured above), wins the virtual scoring of the meet by 46 points over Holy Trinity. The #7 Class 4A ranked Wildcats have gotten off to a great start with a win at the Astronaut-Rotary Invitational. They’re 28 second spread between their top five scorers could favor them in this deep field.

Boy’s Individual Preview

Senior Tyler Bennet(Fort Myers) is favored to win Saturday’s edition of the UF Mtn Dew Invitational. The FHSAA Class 3A Cross Country Finals runner-up won the Fort Myers Optimist Invitational over FHSAA 2A Cross Country Finals champion, Alex Pedraza of Golden Gate(Naples). He boasts a personal best of 15:22(20th at the Foot Locker South Regional) which is 12 seconds better than the next fastest, Kenneth Pineiro (Deland).

Pineiro  finished 2nd in his season opener at the Astronaut Rotary Invitational in a time of 16:33. Pineiro will try to have better luck in the season finale than he had last year. The senior finished 2nd behind Andres Arroyo’s(Colonial, Orlando) course record time at the Region 1 4A meet at Sante Fe College in a personal best of 15:35, but caught the flu afterwards and finished 50th at the 4A Cross Country Finals. Saturday will be another chance to gauge his effort towards the top of the 4A heap.

Conor Ferrentino(Freedom, Orlando) got the best of Pineiro at the Astronaut- Rotary Invitational, taking first in a time of 16:19. He finished 6th at last year’s FHSAA 4A Cross Country finals. He finished 5th at last year’s Mtn Dew Invitational, the best of all returnees entered on Saturday.

Land O’ Lakes is well represented by the duo of Travis Nichols and Tyler Stahl. Nichols won the Lecanto Panther Invitational in a season best time of 16:05 while Stahl finished 6th in a time of 16:27.

Noah Kemp(St. Augustine) is another one to keep an eye on. The senior surprised with an even paced effort to place second at Katie Caples last week in 16:34 to defeat #1 1A runner Andrew Cacciatore(Holy Trinity, Melbourne) who is also in Saturday’s field. That same strategy could work very well on the challenging course and the predicted weather conditions.

Boy’s Team Preview

St. Thomas Aquinas (pictured above) finished 3rd at last year’s UF Mtn Dew Invitational and will be favored to win the title this year. They are preseason ranked #1 in Class 4A and are coming off a win at the Fort Lauderdale City Championships on Tuesday with a near perfect 19 point team total.

Preseason unranked Winter Park upset #5 Class 4A Lyman and #9 Class 4A Buchholz to finish 2nd by one point behind #8 Class 3A Bartram Trail at the Astronaut-Rotary Invitational in week 1. However, none of their top five were below 17 minutes which may make them vulnerable to a few top heavy teams.

Several teams are top heavy; three runners under 17 minutes with their 4th and 5th runners at mid to high 17 minutes and low 18 minute range.

Park Vista (Lake Worth) is coming off a win at the Martin County under the lights. The Cobras top three were under 17 minutes and their top six were under 17:40. They were ranked #8 in Class 4A and with another solid performance at Mtn Dew could move up in the rankings.

St. Augustine will try and keep the momentum from last week’s strong second place showing at the Katie Caples Invitational. There, they beat #1 1A Holy Trinity who is also in this race. Their top three mirror Park Vista’s top three, but their 4th and 5th man will need to match Park Vista’s 4th and 5th. It’s deja vu again with #6 Class 3A Land O’ Lakes. Three sub 17 minute runners couple with a pair of 18 minute runners. It has been successful for them as they 2nd place finish at the Lecanto Panther Invitational.

With 69 teams starting, the team race will be decided in the mid pack where seconds could mean 10 points or more. If St. Thomas can match their performance from last year’s UF Mtn Dew, they will run away with the team title.

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