ORANGE PARK -- A muggy morning greeted runners and spectators Saturday morning at Bob Hans Invitational in Orange Park. That didn’t prevent some solid times and convincing wins on the individual and team side to open up the Florida cross country season.
Despite several head coaching changes this past summer, Nease senior Karen Xiang and her teammates were able to remain a cohesive unit and maintain the summer training regimen.
Xiang parlayed her first summer of training into a convincing victory at the Ridgeview Bob Hans Invitational. Her time of 18:42.51 was a personal best by 32 seconds.
“ I’ve run this course for my district race and have not liked it so much,” said Xiang who traveled to China for one month this past summer.“ I wanted to improve more [today], but I am happy with my time.”
With Head Coach Kristine Williams and Assistant Coach Kim Pawelek--a three-time Olympic Trials qualifier who recently relocated to St. Augustine--giving encouragement, Xiang took the pace out hard opening a five-second margin over Oak Hall’s Brittney Olinger, Grace Blair and Lauren Perry and the Vanguard duo of Audrey Carpenter and Elizabeth Mulford at the mile (5:45). She continued to open the gap finishing with a 50-second margin over Olinger.
“ The third mile was kind of tough because I am not used to being up there.” said Xiang seventh fastest coming into the meet. “ It’s a great start. I was happy with it [the time].”
Olinger overtook and then moved away from the pack to finish second in a time of 19:32.91.
“ The Nease girl (Xiang) got away from me on the second mile,” said Olinger. “ Someone jumped on me around the second mile, but I ran away from them a little bit and was happy with how strong I finished.”
Oak Hall placed five runners in the top 13 to outdistance Nease by 45 points. Freshmen Nadiria Evans (fifth), Lauren Perry (sixth), and eigth-grader Grace Blair (seventh) paced the Eagles to the win.
If you have not followed AAU summer age group track, you may have not heard of Evans. She placed fourth at AAU Nationals in the 800m with a time of 2:15.51 this past summer and enrolled in Oak Hall three weeks ago. Though she has been running track since she was 4 years old, this was only her second attempt at cross-country; the first came when she was 11 at the AAU Nationals at the Disney Wide World of Sports.
“The girls told me not to go out too fast,” said Evans. “ They are state champions, so I followed their advice.”
“ We came in to win the race and perform our best,” said Oak Hall Head Coach Edwin McTureous who led the Eagles to their first 1A FHSAA team title last year after a few close misses. “ It was a good start to the year.”
In the boy’s race, Chiles senior Cade Zimmerman took the lead at the 800m mark and never looked back. His winning time of 16:26.45 outdistanced Vanguard senior David Rood by 23 seconds.
The Wolves arrived in Orange Park Friday night expecting to face Bishop Kenny, but the Crusaders’s top runners did not run Saturday morning.
“ It went really well. We placed four in the top 10 which is really what we wanted,“ said Zimmerman. “ It doesn’t make a difference that they [Bishop Kenny] were here. We just wanted to work out our race strategy.”
David Rood and Lee junior Dominic Williams exchanged places over the final 800m with Rood outlasting Williams to place second in 16:49.95, just nine seconds off his best.
“ I know I can do a lot better,“ said Rood whose Vanguard team moved out of the 3A 'Region of Death.' “ I wanted to run with the Chiles kids.”
Next week, Oak Hall as many of the other teams competing Saturday will be competing in the Bishop Kenny meet where Holy Trinity girls and defending 2A state boy’s champs Bishop Kenny will contend with some of the best teams in the North Florida area.
State Bronze Elite Performances