Lake Brantley sophomore Kayla McCarthy was not on anyone's list as a potential winner of the girls' race at the Mike Gibson Summertime Run hosted Saturday by Lake Mary High School, which annually is a pre-season kick-off to the cross country season in the Orlando metro area.
There was simply no indication from her results of last cross country season which saw her run in the 21-minute range for virtually the entire season for 5K with the exception of an outlier 20:07 performance at her regional meet. Even looking at her most recent performances from the 2021 track season, in which she failed to qualify out of her district meet with season bests of 5:44 in the 1600 and 12:06 in the 3200 for the spring to foresee such an eye-opening season opener win coming.
Racing against a solid field of girls with proven resumés in cross country and track, McCarthy shocked them all yesterday by winning in a rout with a personal best 5K run of 19:33 as she finished 38 seconds ahead of her next closest competitor in fellow sophomore Ella Klyce of West Orange at 20:11 for runner-up honors.
After clearly putting in the work over the summer training months to make such huge gains, McCarthy suddenly needs to be respected as a runner moving up to watch in the 4A classification and one of the next best runners in the Seminole Athletic Conference behind national class runner Caroline Wells of Winter Spring.
Defending 4A state champ Amber Schulz got over a huge hurdle physically and mentally by making her successful return to racing after a long layoff from competition in the spring as she eased back in by helping pace her teammate Vivian Byrnes to a third-place finish at 20:26 with Amber finishing right behind her in fourth place at 20:26. Obviously not an all-out effort or measure of her current fitness for Schulz in the teammate assist objective and also helping the FL #7 ranked Timber Creek girls win the team title as well with 55 points.
Their squad had 4 runners in the top 14 places with Byrnes, Schulz, Brenda Grez (12th, 21:33), and Hope Ugwuoke (14th, 22:08). West Orange in second with 65 points and Dr. Phillips in third place with 74 points found themselves in striking distance. Both squads had a pair of top 10 individuals between race runner-up Klyce and Ava Baldauf (6th, 20:43) for West Orange, while Dr. Phillips had Hannah Claytor (7th, 20:46) and Maya Lis (9th, 21:15) near the front for them.
It appears that Timber Creek had one runner not finish with only 6 of 7 finishers in the results as well as two other key runners not starting at all between sub 21 minute 5K performers Hannah Kacer, Keelynn Barrier, and Carly Holadia not factoring in their season opener's team outcome. It makes their team win on Saturday all the more impressive being short-handed without their #4-6 returnees, but will need one of those three back for a much bigger test coming up on Friday at the Cecil Field Summer Classic racing against even tougher competition from all classifications against Jacksonville.
These early-season meets can always be a fun discovery of new freshmen talent emerging and names to remember. Astronaut ninth-grader Madison Carr certainly appears to be a new face to watch out for this season breaking into the top 5 at the Mike Gibson Summertime Run with a 20:29 5K effort to make her high school cross country debut.