Winter Springs senior Caroline Wells made her season debut as Florida's top returning cross country and the reigning 3A state champion on Saturday at the Astronaut Invitational in Titusville at Chain of Lakes Park.
A muddy and soaked course from heavy rainfall the day before slowed down the times typically trending faster than normal on the 5K course.
After making her college decision two days prior in verbally committing to Stanford, Wells cruised to victory at the Astronaut Invite yet her effort not at full tilt still produced the state's fastest 5K time of the season by over 40 seconds with a 17:53 performance. With a 16:16 state record 5K best on the track, Wells should be able to comfortably run under 18 minutes in every race this season. Her time range last fall in all of her cross country races ranged from 16:50 to 17:27.
Wells won by nearly full two minutes with Olympia freshman Emily Knopfle pulling ahead of another ninth-grader breaking 20 minutes on the day in Madison Carr (3rd, 19:50) of Astronaut for second place in a time of 19:43. It was actually the first race of the season that Knopfle had not won as she picked up victories at DeLand Invite last week in 19:37 and opened with a win at the Trinity Prep Invite at end of August in 20:08. She will not be racing against a virtually unbeatable runner like Wells though every week and showing great promise as a future star.
The Winter Springs girls were last year's 3A state team champions but appear to have some work to do in order to finish on top again at season's end after losing a few runners to graduation despite bringing back the state's best individual in Wells. They finished 5th in the team standings at Astronaut Invite with 167 points. It will be intriguing to see if they can close the gap over the next two months.
Winning the team competition at Astronaut Invite with 115 points and a team average of 21:20 was actually another squad to watch in the 3A classification in the Bishop Moore girls. Bishop Moore had 3 girls finish among the top 15 places individually and in the 20-minute range or faster in Paige McCaul (4th, 19:54), Samantha Lorey (9th, 20:33), and Taylor Moler (14th, 20:48).
The Olympia girls led by race runner-up Knopfle were runners-up as a team as well just 7 points behind Bishop Moore with a 122 point total.