For many seniors the FACA All-Star meet will be the last cross country race of their high school careers. Runners from across the state will head back to a familiar place, Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, the site of the Cross Country Finals, to see which region has the best class of 2014 standouts. Randy Settle will be on-site taking photos of all the runners. We will also have all the results, performances, and a complete recap of all the action!
Fourteen of the top twenty boys runners will be in attendance. Niceville's dynamic duo of Nick Morken and Thomas Howell (pictured above) come in with the fastest times, but those are just numbers. The last time Morken ran the course at the state meet he finished a disappointing 23rd. Howell, the defending state champion placed 4th after coming off of a hip injury. They are part of a stacked north team that also includes Morken's future UNF teammate Wesley Norton, Noah Kemp who recently committed to the University of Portland, and Austin Decker of Bolles who was third at the 2A Cross Country Finals.
Their toughest competition will come from the west team which features 2A state champion Leonel Delacruz of Immokalee, the Land O'Lakes trio of Travis Nichols, Tyler Stahl, and Jake Poore. Troy Clark of Mount Dora Bible was seeded first in 1A coming into the state meet and was clearly disappointed after a 4th place finish. Can a win on Saturday be the cherry on top of his career? Adding to the motivation of this squad is their coach Kris Keppel. The Land O'Lakes coach is battling pancreatic cancer and Nichols, Stahl, and Poore have been "running for Keppel" all season. After receiving chemotherapy Friday, he will travel to Tallahassee to coach the team. Truly an inspiration!
Also in the mix for the top individuals will be Xavier Walton, the 2A runner-up, Keneth Pineiro of Deland (both competing for the south team), and Manny Velasquez of St. Thomas Aquinas who was 4th in 4A and will be running with two of his Raider teammates, Joey Maus, and Antony Cruz.
The girls individual battle will be a fight to the finish.The east team has a pair of 8th place finishers in Charlotte Stephens of Winter Park (4A) and Claire Castillo of Titusville (2A). Stephens ran 18:44 at Pre-State and has proven herself on this course. Madison Harris of Wakulla headlines the north squad. Harris was 9th at the state meet and has the closing speed to contend for the title if it comes down to the final straight away. She was the 800 meter runner-up during the outdoor season and has a personal best of 2:14.78.The west is led by Anita Munoz of Immokalee who had a great run at the state meet where she was fourth. The team to beat though is the south which has a bevy of talent from top to bottom.
The team has a Ferguson flare with four Falcons on the roster and their head jester Ryan Raposo at the helm. They will have a solid 1-2 punch in Katherine MacNeal the 4A runner-up and Katrina Santiago (pictured above) of Ferguson who was 6th in 4A. Santiago has the fastest time in the field; 18:21.24 set at Pre-State. MacNeal, who was also the runner-up outdoors in the 1600 meters, has great closing speed. Look for them to finish in the top three and guide a very deep south team which also includes two more sub 19 minute girls, Luly Brea of Lourdes and Emily Hernandez of Ferguson, plus a couple of other strong runners that should close out their pack in Kaley Doyle of Park Vista, and Morgan Hull from Palm Beach Central.