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On Friday night under the lights at Austin Tindall Park in Kissimmee, a dozen teams gathered to compete at the Julius Tharp (JT) Memorial Race co-hosted by Gateway and Tohopekaliga High School.
A cooler night once the sunset and great atmosphere of fans zig-zagging around the course greeted the runners competing. It was also a great night for the Celebration boys and girls who got to celebrate together as team champions in both races.
In the girls' race, a clear-cut trio separated from the rest of the field as expected going into the meet between the Boone duo of Hannah Foley and Megan Dolan along with Celebration's Catalina Edwards. The front group of all juniors broke away from the rest of the runners in the first mile and built up a two-minute gap to the fourth finisher in the race.
By the time that they completed the second loop of the course at Austin Tindall Park and made their way on the stadium field to the finishing stretch, the Boone teammates Foley and Dolan had separated from Edwards and now was a race between the two training partners for first place.
Dolan had edged out her teammate Foley in their prior two invitational races in victories at the Kowboy Invitational (19:23) and Windermere Meet of Champions (19:50), but it was finally Foley's turn to find the next gear to kick to her first signature victory in cross country with a personal best time of 19:13. Dolan was just right behind her in second place in a PR as well at 19:14.
More impressive and inspirational about Foley is that she was born deaf, so the obstacles and challenges that her disability might bring in competing in the sport of running seem to be minimal to her considering how fast of a runner that she has become. She may not be able to hear the fans cheering for her, but she can see plenty of them rooting her on.
Despite the 1-2 finish by Foley and Dolan, the Boone girls (41 pts) were not able to hold off the Celebration girls (36 pts) for the team title as only five points separated the top two squads and Tohopekaliga was also close in third place with 56 points. Edwards was the team's top finisher in third place with a PR of 19:21.
It was actually the "worst" finish of the season technically for her, but not a bad race at all with the clear personal best effort as Edwards has been an impressive model of consistency to grab runner-up finishes in her first three invitational races prior.
In the boys' race, Celebration front-loaded with 3 of the top 4 finishers led by pre-race favorite and senior Jared Falchook winning comfortably by a 41-second margin and season-best time of 16:20. His only 5K performance faster was a 16:08 run on the track in the post-season last November.
Cooper James (2nd, 17:01) and Evan Amaya (4th, 17:13) for Celebration both finished ahead of Boone's top finisher Gian Thundiyil (5th, 17:31), which they needed as Boone was well packed after that taking 7 of the top 14 places. Celebration was still able to hold onto the team title in a 33 to 38 point comparison in the team scoring thanks to their formidable front three.