Bennett, Wollrath Dew Well to Win Titles at UF Invitational


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Tyler Bennett Interview - Boys Champ

Julie Wollrath Interview - Girls Champ


Meet Summary


Gainesville, FL- Walking over to the Mark Bostic Golf Course, a driver rolled down his window and asked “Is there a football game today?” To my hearts delight I responded, “No, it’s a cross country meet!!!”   2,800 athletes and approximately 5, 000 spectators, fans and officials, gathered for some rough and tumble competition of a different sort; one that taps into the inner core of an athlete’s true mettle.

Weather conditions seemed reasonable early on in the college races, but by the time the boy’s start rolled around, the conditions were steamy and oppressive. That did not deter senior Tyler Bennett of Fort Myers. He bided his time and then made a planned early move and never was challenged winning in a time of 15:23.29- just three seconds off his best time of 15:20 from Foot Locker South Regionals last November.

“I went out kind of slow with the pack. They didn’t want to go with me. They were pacing off me a little bit, I think,” said Bennet, the 3A runner-up last year. “My plan was to move at the three to four minute mark into the race. It felt pretty good.”

By the mile, Bennet had a seven second lead over Land O’ Lakes senior Jake Poore and a 9 second lead over the pack which included Tyler Stahl (Land O’ Lakes), Andrew Cacciatore (Holy Trinity), Conner Ferrentino(Freedom),  Kenneth Peniero(Deland), Andrew Igelsias(Pembroke Pines) and Johnathan Klump(North Broward Prep).

The undulating course took its toll on the runners over the next mile breaking the pack apart. By the two and half mile mark, Stahl, Ferrentino and Cacciatore had separated and were joined by unknown senior Manny Velasquez (St. Thomas Aquinas). Velasquez transferred from Stoneman Douglas after his freshman year which saw him finish 48th at the FHSAA Class 4A State Cross Country Finals in a personal best time of 16:24. Since then, it has been injury after injury.

“No one knows me because of the injuries,” said Velasquez after the race who ran 9:45 at the Florida Relays last year before suffering another injury. “This is the first time I have been able to run cross country for St. Thomas.”

Velasquez seemed to gain strength over the final half mile and powered away from first Tyler Stahl and then Connor Ferrentino finishing second in a time of 15:42.85.

“It’s my senior year. I am just taking it all in while I can,” said a beaming Velasquez of his second place performance. Velasquez was hoping to curb his injury prone lower legs by resorting to a staple of cross training.

In the team race, #1 Class 4A St. Thomas Aquinas overpowered the field winning by 86 points over unranked Class 3A Fort Myers, and 89 points over unranked Class 3A Estero. Unranked Class 4A Winter Park’s pack running paid dividends as they finished ahead of #5 Class 4A Lyman, #6 Class 3A Land O’ Lakes, #7 Class 3A St. Augustine, and  #1 Class 1A Holy Trinity.

“They’re working hard together. We’re ahead of where we were a year ago,” said St. Thomas Aquinas Head Coach Trish Butler. With the emergence of Velasquez, St. Thomas I poised to win their first state title in school history. Their best ever finish was last year’s 3rd place.

The trek won’t be easy. Tony Cruz, 21st at last year at the state champs has only been running four days.

“I threw him in this race to see how much guts he has and he has some so it’s working out,” said Butler. “I am happy the way the boys ran today. We still have a lot of work to do. We tend to do better at the end of the year.”

Girls Recap

An inadvertent omission in my preview served as fodder to propel Estero to the girls’ team title Saturday morning.

“We took your write up very personal, “said Estero head coach Jeff Sommers. “ We went on flrunners last night and saw that we weren’t ranked in the top five. I am the first one to admit, I wanted to motivate the kids and told them they don’t think Estero exists.”

A quick start by Emily Edwards (Fort Myers) did not deter the Estero trio of Bethany Jenkins (SR), Araceli Leon (SR), and Katie Slater (SR) who followed the pace closely. Also tucked in among the pack and taking a little off the gas pedal after last week’s Katie Caples meet was Julie Wollrath (Holy Trinity).

”Last race [Katie Caples] I tried to lead and it didn’t work out so well,” said Wollrath. “This week, I tried to stay back and work my way up.”

Araceli Leon, a transfer who ran in Michigan last year posted a best of 18:41 and who ran for South Fort Myers High School two seasons ago, was the first to succumb to Edwards’ quick pace and dropped back a few meters around the 1.5 mile mark. Wollrath slowly gained and just after two miles she was within five meters of Edwards.

Edwards strategy was a bit different from her previous two races. Instead of staying with the pack, she took it out hard. It was reaping benefits until late when Wollrath was able to overtake her and open up a sizable lead. Wollrath finished strong in a new season best of18:17.85 to secure the victory.

“I knew it was going to be hard to stay away from them so I just tried to stay in front and do my best,” said Wollrath.

Jenkins was also able to overtake Edwards and finished second in a time of 18:27.87. Alexa Cruz (St. Thomas Aquinas) who was down seven seconds on the lead pack at the mile worked her way up to secure third place in a time of 18:32.49.

Edwards finished in 18:38.87 taking fourth and ending up in the medical tent for the second time in three races.

“It [her needing medical attention] was a little similar to the Estero race, but not as bad,” Edwards “We’re still trying to figure it out [her condition]. I think so far everything seems ok.”

St. Thomas Aquinas was this year’s top team all classifications, but on Saturday morning, all did not go as well. Second runner, Christina Kalis dropped out and Marina Brayon Moore ran the junior varsity race after nursing an injury over the summer.

“They’ll come together” said Coach Trish Butler who noted that Moore ran 21:08.12 to finish third after seven days of training. “I’m sure after seven weeks of training, she’ll be fine.”

For Estero though, the spotlight is now back on them. The three time state champions lost Kacy Smith and Katy Solis to the college ranks, but with Saturday’s win put themselves in a great position to take title number four. In all this team has lost a team title twice over the past four years including a one point loss to Lakewood Ranch in 2009 Invitational. After Saturday’s race, things seem to be on track for the Wildcats.

“We had three girls PR today,” said 4th runner Estero sophomore Daley Cline. “We’re really excited.”

National Silver Elite Performances

Girls - Julie Wollrath (Holy Trinity Academy) 18:17.85 SB; Bethany Jenkins (Estero HS) 18:27.87 SB; Alexa Cruz (St. Thomas Aquinas HS) 18:32.49 SB; Emily Edwards (Fort Myers HS) 18:38.87 SB; Hannah Brookover (Calvary Christian (Clearwater)) 18:40.53 SB; Araceli Leon (Estero HS) 18:45.07 SB; Sarah Candiano (Evangelical Christian School) 18:56.59 SB; Alex Eaton (Shorecrest Prep) 18:58.93 SB; Eden Meyer (Providence School) 19:00.20 SB; Katie Slater (Estero HS) 19:01.03 SB; Lourdes Brea (Our Lady of Lourdes Academy) 19:02.06 SB; Nadiria Evans (Oak Hall School) 19:04.82 SB; Daley Cline (Estero HS) 19:08.39 SB; Katherine Kuhn (Winter Park HS) 19:10.59 SB; Brittney Olinger (Oak Hall School) 19:12.43 SB;Shelby Smith (Holy Trinity Academy) 19:15.50 SB; Claire Castillo (Titusville HS) 19:16.15 SB; Adair Lyden (Lake Nona HS) 19:18.23 SB; Charlotte Stephens (Winter Park HS) 19:18.48 SB; Lauren Perry (Oak Hall School) 19:22.25 SB; Emily Nix (Winter Park HS) 19:23.85 SB; Maleia Storum (Holy Trinity Academy) 19:25.79 SB; Talia Carlson (Oak Hall School) 19:31.43 SB; Sophia Vesely (Shorecrest Prep) 19:33.44 SB; Kianna Bonnet (Seabreeze HS) 19:34.83 SB; Brianna Rischar (St. Thomas Aquinas HS) 19:37.34 SB;

Boys - Tyler Bennett (Fort Myers HS) 15:24.29 SB; Manuel Velasquez (St. Thomas Aquinas HS) 15:42.85 SB; Connor Ferrentino (Freedom HS (Orlando)) 15:46.57 SB; Tyler Stahl (Land O Lakes HS) 15:55.60 SB; Andrew Cacciatore (Holy Trinity Academy) 15:57.03 SB; Dean McGregor (Fort Myers HS) 16:00.73 SB; Xavier Walton (Titusville HS) 16:01.59 SB; Travis Nichols (Land O Lakes HS) 16:01.64 SB; Steven Cross (Merritt Island HS) 16:03.00 SB; Joseph Janson (P.K. Yonge School) 16:04.95 SB; Jean D'Haiti (Dr. Phillips HS) 16:09.89 SB; Trevor Kattenberg (Holy Trinity Academy) 16:10.53 SB; Keneth Pineiro (DeLand HS) 16:14.55 SB; Carlos Penaranda (Pembroke Pines Charter HS) 16:16.95 SB; Noah Kemp (St. Augustine HS) 16:22.15 SB; Jake Poore (Land O Lakes HS) 16:24.88 SB; Matthew Butler (St. Thomas Aquinas HS) 16:25.53 SB; Mik Sonderreger (Park Vista HS) 16:26.15 SB; Dillion Vallette (Estero HS) 16:26.17 SB; Tyler O'brien (Martin County HS) 16:26.73; Alexander Haugen (St. Thomas Aquinas HS) 16:29.70 SB;