(Paul Stafford of Lakes Wales is one of the top boys entrants from Florida in the Foot Locker South field.)
Florida individuals have had great success at Foot Locker South. Last year the Sunshine State had three athletes Amanda Beach, Bailey Hertenstein and Charles Hicks all finish in the top ten and earn a trip to Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego. That trend should continue in 2017. We take a look at the girls and boys individuals preview with a Florida flare.
The four fastest girls in Florida are all in the championship race. Chiles' Ana Wallace is seeded 10th coming in and is the 3A Cross Country Finals winner. Wallace won six races this season including a runner-up performance at Great American with a time of 17:26.50. She'll have teammate Emily Culley to work with in this race and help push her.
Speaking of two athletes that push each other to their max, Bailey Hertenstein and Alyssa Hendrix will also give Florida an excellent shot to send representatives to San Diego. Hertenstein advanced last year and was 20th at Nationals. She told us after the state meet her times and records would go down and Hendrix would be the one to do it.
The former teammates also train together on the side with coach Stephen Dunn. Dunn had the pair working on hills to simulate the McAlpine course early in the week. Hertenstein was recently crowned 4A champion for the third consecutive year in 17:26.61 while Hendrix was right behind her in 17:30.82.
Another name to keep an eye out for? Winter Park senior Rafaella Gibbons. Gibbons is a 4A state champion from 2014 and 2x NXN qualifier. She has decided to do Foot Locker South before she heads off to nearby NC State next fall. She finished 4th at state behind the likes of Hertenstein and Hendrix, but Gibbons is a gamer, and steps up on large stages. Don't count her out of this one.
Others to watch include Natalie Abernathy of Land O'Lakes, Ali Del Re of Jupiter, and Nicole Matysik of Key West.
Don't be surprised if it takes a sub 15 minute 5k to advance from Foot Locker South on Saturday. That's because nine of the ten fastest have all ran that time in 2017 including 3A state champion Michael Phillips. Phillips has the 8th best time in the field with his 14:58.20 where he was runner-up at Great American. That race gave him the confidence to compete with the best in the country. Don't be surprised if he is Florida's first finisher.
Paul Stafford was disappointed he fell short of his goal of a 2A state champion. Stafford was second behind 2016 Foot Locker Finalist Charles Hicks of Bolles, but the Lake Wales senior is a competitor. Chances are he used that race as a learning tool and motivation. Look for Stafford to be in the front group, work with Phillips, and hang on as long as he can.
Others to watch include Joshua Collins of Belen Jesuit the 3A runner-up and 4A champion Benjamin Hartvigsen of Sarasota who even surprised himself a little after the state meet.