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The biggest meet of the fifth weekend of the 2021 high school cross season in Florida was found in Jacksonville at Bishop Kenny High School for the Katie Caples Invitational.
The night meet under the nights around the athletic fields of the school along the St. Johns River and Jacksonville downtown skyline in view across the water had a huge draw of spectators to cheer on the runners starting with the middle school girls as the first race of the day at 4:15 PM to the elite high school boys' race to conclude the evening's action, which finished after the sunset close to 8 PM.
The elite boys' race was the hype going into the meet and the highlight coming out of the meet. A deep field including 8 of the top 20 ranked runners in the state of Florida and many more with sub 16 minute credentials for 5K including the state's number one ranked in Nease senior Rheinhardt Harrison with the target on his back being chased by several worthy challengers.
Those challengers including the young rising star in Leon sophomore Patrick Koon, who won the loaded Cecil Field Summer Classic on the opening weekend of the season with a 15:15 personal best performance. Other runners coming into the meet on a hot streak with major invite wins and breakthrough PR's included Montverde Academy junior Riley Novack (FL #5 ranked) and Berkeley Prep senior Ethan Lipham (FL #7 ranked).
The race got out quickly and eventually, two found their way to the front and pulling away from the rest in FL #1 ranked Harrison and FL #3 ranked Koon. Thru the first two miles, Harrison and Koon were locked together with Koon doing much of the leading and pace pushing. And in one moment of the race midway, Harrison actually took a spill on a slick turn but was able to get back up.
By the time though that the first runner entered the track at Bishop Kenney for the final straightaway, it was Rheinhardt Harrison all alone and cruising into a victory with a new meet and course record time of 15:12. He broke the old record of 15:18 previously held by Creekside's Jimmy Clark, who went onto in that same 2010 season to finish 7th at Foot Locker Nationals.
A promising sign for Harrison who is looking to qualify for and compete in his first Foot Locker Nationals this fall. He did not look like he was pressing too hard either as he came into the finish for the final 100 meters.
Finishing 15 seconds back in a valiant and fearless challenge similar to how he led and pushed Javier Vento in last spring's 3A state 3200-meter race as only a freshman was Leon's Koon with a time of 15:27. While he was unable to pull off the big upset of Rheinhardt Harrison, Koon did show he is certainly on the right path to be Florida's best runner soon after the graduation of Harrison this spring and only a tenth grader currently.
The pecking order after Harrison and Koon had a few surprises or shake-ups from the initial rankings going into the meet. The Chiles duo of Ben Kirbo and Wyatt Townsend really stepped up when finally got the opportunity this season to race on a fast course against a deep field after racing primarily smaller local meets in the Tallahassee area.
The senior Kirbo ran a 5K personal best of 15:40 to grab third place ahead of two highly ranked runners in FL #5 Novack of Montverde Academy (4th, 15:43) and FL #7 Lipham (5th, 15:47) of Berkeley Prep. Kirbo was ranked #19 in the state as a comparison coming into the meet. Meanwhile, his teammate Townsend was completely unranked yet finished only fourth seconds off Lipham in sixth place at 15:51. The pair could definitely be in the running for the best duo in the state after their combined performance at Katie Caples Invite.
A total of 10 runners broke 16 minutes in the elite field on the Bishop Kenney course, which is a fair and not an instant PR course considering the number of turns on the course layout. There were two first-time sub 16-minute performers among that group including Bolles junior Aidan Ryan (7th, 15:53), who is the son of the Bolles girls head cross country coach Tony Ryan and Circle Christian junior Jack DeJesus (8th, 15:53).
The top 3 finishing squads in the elite boys' race will be the same 3 teams will be seeing in November competing for the 2A state team title in Satellite, Bolles, and Berkeley Prep. All 3 squads left the meet feeling like they still left their best team race out there and can race better when they face off again especially at the season's end in the state meet with the margin of error small.
The defending 2A state champions Satellite boys were coming off a meet last week running fast times across the board at the Southern Showcase in Huntsville, Alabama on the same course which will host the RunningLane National Championships on December 4th.
The times were not matched at Katie Caples Invite, but a top 5 spread under one minute was the key to victory for FL #3 ranked Satellite with 108 points in holding off FL #6 ranked Bolles in second place with 115 points and FL #4 ranked Berkeley Prep in third place with 130 points. Satellite nearly had their entire top 5 under 17 minutes at Katie Caples Invite with Dayton Law (12th, 16:08), Justin Wilson (13th, 16:12), Aidan Mason (17th, 16:31), Andrew Mahorner (20th, 16:36), and Carson Waggoner (47th, 17:02).
Bolles actually had one of their top runners in William Brady (15:58 5K PR) drop out of the race, which greatly impacted their team scoring. Meanwhile, Berkeley Prep's typical #3 runner and last year's FLYRA Middle School State Champion in Liam Jordan had an off race as the team's #5 finisher in 48th place with a time of 17:02.
The Buchholz boys came into the meet ranked #21 in the state of Florida, but will be making a big jump this coming week after finishing fourth at Katie Caples Invite and only two points behind the fourth-ranked Berkeley Prep squad. The squad from Gainesville had four runners in the 16-minute range or faster led by Emerson Miller once again in ninth place with a time of 15:54.
While the top 3 ranked teams in 2A got a chance to face off on Saturday night, the top 2 ranked teams in 1A also faced off for the third time this season but the first time that Oak Hall School has beaten Circle Christian finishing sixth overall in the field and nine points ahead of them.
Bartram Trail still remains one of the state's tightly packed squads in the state and Saturday night was another display of keeping their top 5 as close together as possible with only 38 seconds separating their scoring lineup on a 16:36 team average to finish fifth in the team standings and tally of 170 points.