The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for the Annual Gulf Coast Cross Country Stampede at the Escambia County Equestrian Center in Pensacola, Florida. Participating teams came from around the panhandle and as far away as Alabama, Georgia and even Tennessee. The course, which is about 60% grass and 40% trail, is mostly flat and according to High School Varsity meet director and West Florida Tech High School Coach, Jeff Oliver, it was in great condition for the day’s events.
Before the race, expectations were high for two participants. Coach Oliver commented, “this year’s girl’s race will be exciting. The race may see its first sub 18 minute 5000 meter runner as Malia Cali, a senior from St. Thomas Aquinas out of Louisiana, looks to break that mark for the second time this year. The girl’s race has over 250 runners registered of which over 30 are capable of running under 21:30. The top team going into the girl’s race is Harrison from Georgia. All 7 of their varsity runners can run under 21 minutes.”
“This year’s boys race may see its first sub 15 minute 5000 meter runner as Kirubal Erassa, a senior from Grayson High School out of Georgia, looks to run under that mark for the second time this year. The boy’s race also has over 250 runners registered of which over 30 are capable of breaking 17:30. This race will also feature two of the best teams in the South as our own Washington High School will find some tough competition in Harrison High School out of Georgia. Both teams have 5 guys who can break 17 minutes.”
Malia Cali, who ran a time of 17:55, set the pace for the High School Varsity girls as she acquired the lead from the start and led the entire race finishing far ahead of everyone else. "I wanted to run a little faster," Malia commented on the race. "I was hoping to have someone pushing me. When I cross that line, I want to know I didn't leave anything on the course." Malia felt she was well prepared going into the race, thanks to the training she and her team gets from their coaches. She stated, "our team did really well. Everyone improved some."
Pine Forest High School supplied the second place runner, Darroneshia Lott, who came in almost a minute behind Mailia Cali with a time of 18:52. In third place was Karissa Nelson from TR Miller with a time of 19:16.
Harrison High School took the anticipated first place team win with 38 points. In second place was UMS-Wright with 76 points and with 179 points, St. Thomas Acquinas’ girl’s team placed third overall.
The Varsity Boys meet was just as exciting as Kirubal Erassa also led the way throughout the race. He seemed to effortlessly cross the finish with a time of 15:24. Walker High School’s Paul Arthur placed a close second (15:30) with AJ Bernstien (15:56) from Houston High School taking a third place, helping Houston High secure a 1st place overall team win with 58 points. Niceville High School came in second with 96 points and Harrison High School had 106 points for third place. Kirubal Erassa’s team from Grayson High School, placed 4th overall. Unfortunately, Kirubal was not available for an interview.
Four girls teams and Five boys teams from area middle schools also showed up to strut their stuff. Coach Klein, Workman Middle School Cross Country Coach and organizer for the middle school races, felt this was a good course that gives the runners a good opportunity to see what they will have to look forward to in high school. Both girls and boys teams displayed excellent times in the 2 mile race. Local high schools have a lot to look forward to in the talent these runners have, especially on the Ruckel Middle School girls team. Ruckel provided 6 of the top 7 runners to cross the finish, including Alyse Snyders, who was second overall with a time of 12:33. Alyse stated, "I just like being on the team and having the good experience of a team sport and running with my friends." This was Ruckel's first year participating in the Stampede. Ruckel's coach had this to say about his team's performance, "they're good kids and very well balanced. We are hoping this leads into something bigger." Ruckel is currently undefeated. The girls first place overall winner was Melissa Johnson from St. Joseph who ran a time of 12:17.
Workman Middle School took the boys win also with 6 of the top 7 runners, and also had the first place runner, Luke Baldwin, who ran a time of 11:22. This was not a PR for Luke, but he still felt really good about the race. Luke's best 2 mile time is a 10:30. When asked what motivates him Luke stated, "my friend T.C just died and I dedicated my season to him." T.C. would be proud. Eric Coston from Trafton crossed the line in second place with a time of 11:59.