Freshmen Girls Dominate 3A, Creekside/Chiles Boys Grapple for Titles

In the girls race, the whole flight pulled together through the start and down the first hill. Coming around near the first mile, freshmen Alyson Churchill of Lincoln and Valerie Lastra of Mater Academy moved into the lead with North Fort Myers' Kayla Easterly in tow. Over the wall the first time and crossing the 1.5-mile mark, Churchill and Lastra opened up a seven-second lead on Easterly.

Coming around the packed sand the second trip, near two miles, Churchill hung an eight-second lead on Lastra and Lastra held a 10-second lead on Easterly. Leesburg's Kara Funke pulled up in fourth with Fort Myers' Kristin Gear in fifth. Over the wall the second time, coming out near three miles, it was Churchill, Lastra, Easterly. Funke and Gear were neck-and-neck for fourth. Down the hill, it was Churchill in at 17:55.22, Lastra in at 18:02.86 ad Easterly in at 18:14.51, a new personal record and school record for North Fort Myers. Easterly's local rival Gear, got into a footrace with Funke at the finish line and Gear got it for fourth in 18:23.01. Funke was fifth at 18:23.50. 

"She (Lastra) ran a phenomenal race, I was excited just to run against her," Churchill said. "I really didn't have a strategy because I usually mess it up, I just run as hard as I can the whole way."

Churchill made it the first individual title for a Tallahassee Lincoln girl since 1992.

On the team front, an older rivalry revved up between Niceville and Chiles. Chiles won big over Niceville in 2015 but 2016 would see a changing of the guard. Top runner from Niceville, Hannah Schneidewind claimed 10th overall with teammate Abbie Harrelson in 13th. The rest of the Niceville runners, Alexis Sherwin, Ally Woodard and Ciara Coger, swept the 22nd, 23rd and 24th, respectively. Chiles' Ana Wallace and Emily Culley took seventh and eighth and it was close coming down to the wire.

"They (Chiles) are a well-coached team and their girls always race well here," Niceville girls coach Jamie Lafollette said. "For us to come together out here is just amazing."

Even Lafollette was on pins and needles as runners came in.

"At one point, I heard the announcer say it was a one-point race," Lafollette said. "After 2015, we knew the feeling of being second place and this year the girls dug it out and put us over the hump."

The Niceville girls would take it 63-75 over defending champs Chiles.

On the boys side, starting runners that shot out early faded quickly. Coming around just after the first mile, a pack consisting of Creeskside seniors Matthew Clark and Nicholas Deal, Belen Jesuit junior Joshua Collins, Chiles junior Matthew Phillips, Vanguard junior Diego Lavieri-Sosa, Liberty junior Joshua Figueroa, and New Smyrna Beach junior Payne Meyer began to form.

Over the wall the first trip, nearing 1.5 miles, Clark, Deal, Collins and Phillips began to separate from the rest of the field. Down the hill, the lead group started to put even more grass between themselves and the rest of the runners. Coming back around the sand, near two miles, Phillips took the lead with Clark and Deal right on his tail and Collins hanging tight. The lead group had put 12 seconds between them and the rest of the field. Over the wall the second time, coming out near three miles, the finishing order became apparent as Phillips won it in 15:30.54, Clark took second in 15:35.13 and Deal was a close third at 15:35.71. Collins took fourth in 15:40.10. 

"I've gone against Creekside a lot this season and they (Clark and Deal) are both very good runners," Phillips said. "My plan was to go at the bottom of the hill the second time and it felt good. I knew they were going to be behind me though and push me to the end."

Clark and Dean's finishes put Creekside in great position to make their second-straight team title over Chiles, the 2014 team champs and 2015 runners up. 

"We had a lot of returners from the 2015 team. This was an awesome race, going back and forth and against a good program in Chiles," Creekside boys coach Eric Frank said. "There are a bunch of good programs in Region 1. All those good teams continually make you better."

And it was Creekside, 93-103 over Chiles. Belen Jesuit took third with 129. 

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