A total of 17 boys who have already dipped under 16 minutes this season for 5K describe a true Race of Champions field that will be assembled on Saturday morning at the 2021 HOKA flrunners.com Invitational.
Only one of those runners has seen the sub 15 minute on the clock as he has crossed a finish line in Belen Jesuit senior Adam Magoulas from his 14:57 meet record race at the Spanish River Invite as he will be the race favorite as the #2 ranked runner in the entire state of Florida and undefeated to this point. He is also the top returnee from last year's meet when he finished second behind only graduated teammate Javi Vento.
After running 15:51 last year at Holloway Park could Magoulas break the 15:39 meet record set by 2019 flrunners.com Invite meet champion Ethan Geiger? It seems definitely within reach and he might have to at least run faster than 15:39 with the field behind him to push him.
There are already six runners in the field besides Magoulas who have run faster than 15:39 this season in Riley Novack of Montverde Academy, Nick Carpenter of Trinity Prep, Ethan Lipham of Berkeley Prep, Joshua Ruiz of Belen Jesuit, Joshua Bergers of IMG Academy, and Brayden Seymour of Hagerty.
Berkeley Prep's Lipham was third in last year's race behind Vento and Magoulas with a rare sub 16-minute effort at Holloway Park in 15:57. He was the winner two weeks ago at North Port in a swift 15:32 PR time. Lipham has emerged as a legitimate contender in 2A for the state title this fall.
Novack had been undefeated up until last week when he finished fourth at the Katie Caples Invite in a time of 15:40. He had rolled out a much faster time the week prior at Hernando in a 15:07 5K personal best with a strong first season at his new program in Montverde Academy.
This will be the third race of the season for Carpenter of Trinity Prep, who ran a swift 15:26 opener in a third-place finish at the Cecil Field Invite while was a runner-up at the Astronaut Invite behind only Michael Toppi of Viera. It will also be a great state meet preview in 2A with Carpenter, Novack, and Lipham all in the same race for the first time this season.
The young gun of the group is sophomore Joshua Ruiz, who impressed many at the Spanish River Invite staying up with teammate Magoulas and Viera's Toppi to finish third with a personal best time of 15:29. He will have another opportunity to race against some of the top upperclassmen in the state.
Joshua Bergers won the last big meet at Holloway Park in the Seffner Christian on a muddy course with a 16:31 victory. He has only run much faster on easier courses since then including a 15:51 runner-up run behind Lipham at North Port and this past weekend dropping a 15:31 PR in Arizona at the Desert Twilight meet.
Brayden Seymour was rolling last week on his home course and the home crowd at the Hagerty Invitational to scorch a school-record time of 15:32. The junior Seymour was all alone last week in that race, but will have plenty of company with him this week at the flrunners.com Invite in the Race of Champions.
The duo from Chiles in Ben Kirbo and Wyatt Townsend caught our attention last week finishing third (15:40) and sixth (15:51) with personal best times at the Katie Caples Invite. They should build upon these performances and once against try to knock off more top-ranked runners like did a week ago.
There are more individuals to watch that could pull in top 10 runs and definitely top 15 finishes including Zack Poekert of Wesley Chapel, Bernardo Barnhart of Palmetto Ridge, Raekwon Hopkins of Alonso, Colsen Palmer of Fort Myers, Mateo Luna of Indian Rocks Christian, Tristan McWilliam of Out of Door Academy, Tyler Wadsworth of Port Charlotte, Ryan Douihech of West Boca Raton, and more.
The team favorites will be the Belen Jesuit boys as the defending 4-time 2A state champions and loyal returners annually to the flrunners.com Invitational led by Coach Frankie Ruiz. Led by Magoulas and Ruiz up front, the big question is who will they put in their remaining top 7 lineup for the Race of Champions and the next 7 for the Jason Byrne Invitational.
Both their "A" and "B" squads are that deep and good that they could win both. Belen Jesuit has a grand total of 12 boys currently that have broken 17 minutes for 5K this season with a few more knocking on that door. Their squad had a tough narrow loss to 4A state title favorites Viera at Spanish River to knock them off as the #1 ranked squad, so are looking for another big meet and signature victory to show themselves as one of Florida's best.
Saturday will be a great opportunity for last year's 3A state runners-up in Sunlake to finally get a chance to measure up to Belen Jesuit before the state meet. Sunlake has one of the best tandems in the state between Colby Robbins and Alex Pena. Robbins was a winner to start the season at Holloway Park in the Jim Ryun FCA Invite in a 16:20 effort and should be ready to knock 20 seconds off and push for sub 16 with better conditions and competition. Meanwhile, Pena ran 15:54 last weekend in a meet while Robbins had the weekend off.
Their squad will need to try their best to match upfront thru the top 3 to have a fighting chance with Belen Jesuit as the depth is incredible for their 3A rival beyond their top 5.
Other teams in contention for a top 3 showing include Berkeley Prep, IMG Academy, Christopher Columbus, and Bartram Trail. Berkeley Prep took third place last weekend at the Katie Caples Invitational in a clash of the 2A's best squads with Satellite and Bolles. Berkeley Prep has a top 5 all under 17 minutes this season with two sub 16 runners to lead them in Lipham and Kirin Karver (15:51).
IMG Academy were team champions at Holloway Park in the Seffner Invitational earlier this month and virtually ran PR's or season bests across the board in their trip to Arizona last week at Desert Twilight which is notoriously known as one of the fastest 5K courses in the country to drop their top 5 team average of season bests down to 16:17.
Christopher Columbus boys are the reigning 4A state champions and often are pitted against a Belen Jesuit squad in most local Miami meets that the gap between those two squads might make them look a weaker team, but their times actually show that they can match up well with other squads in the state and would not be surprised for them to finish in the top 3 att he Race of Champions. Columbus has a top 5 right now ranging from 16:10 to 16:51 with their season-best times.
Bartram Trail is a team that normally can't miss at meets because they like to run together in a pack running strategy that has served them well with high finishes in several major meets including Katie Caples Invite last Saturday. Let's see if they leapfrog with their pack at Holloway Park over some of the higher-ranked teams ahead of them.
The field for individuals and teams will certainly be deep with some quality found well in the middle of the pack within our Race of Champions as well as going beyond in our second-seeded race in the Jason Byrne Invitational division to follow.