Schulz Continue To Blaze A Comeback Trail In 18:12 5K

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Amber Schulz of Timber Creek continued her comeback story on Saturday winning the Tohopekaliga Invitational in a course and meet record time of 18:12. The season-best time by the senior is the 7th fastest this season in the state of Florida, while the top performance by any runner in the 4A classification.

The defending 4A state champion from last cross country season, who missed the entire track season due to injury, appears to be in a great place to attempt a state title repeat with the progress made over the last two months in her return to racing. She recently committed to High Point University in North Carolina and seems to have a great mindset approaching the last two months of high school cross country.

Schulz built a huge lead early on the field on the flat two loop course around the school grounds of Tohopekaliga High School and never looked back to win by a margin over a minute. Her next closest finisher was another runner overcoming injuries and appearing now to be closer to her top form in Harmony's Alanie Rivera.

Rivera was a top 10 All-State finisher last year in 3A and was expected coming into this cross country season to be a top finisher in her new 4A classification with her squad. Rivera had both hamstring and calf injury set back her summer training as well as the first half of the cross country season but ran her best race so far of the season this weekend with a time of 19:13 to finish second behind only Schulz.

The Timber Creek girls led by Schulz won the team title with ease tallying 42 points to finish well ahead of district rivals from Winter Park in second place with 82 points. In total, Timber Creek had 6 runners under 21 minutes on the course and nearly all of them inside the top 25 places overall with Schulz, Hannah Kacer (7th, 19:37), Carly Holadia (10th, 20:07), Brenda Grez (13th, 20:24), Vivian Byrnes (16th, 20:39), and Hope Ugwuoke (21st, 20:46).

After a fourth-place finish in last year's 4A state finals, the Timber Creek girls are hoping to move up a few spots and be one of the top two podium teams in November. Schulz and her squad will get a great test before the state meet after winning and dominating smaller local invitational meets lately in the Orlando metro area when they travel to Tallahassee for the FSU Pre-State Invitational next weekend.

Winter Park is hoping to join them in selection for the elite race at Pre-State after a strong team showing at Tohopekaliga Invite with four runners under 21 minutes and a fifth runner at 21:17. Christina Feucht led their squad with an 8th place individual effort of 19:45, while the remaining top 5 was spread out over a 43-second span with Zoey Thomas (14th, 20:34), Madelyn Jersey (17th, 20:40), Olivia Ranno (19th, 20:44), and Jazlyn Dailey (26th, 21:17). 

It was a battle of Joel's out front in the varsity boys race at the Tohopekaliga Invitational between Dr. Phillips junior Joel McConnell and Harmony junior Joel Jean. Despite only a five-second difference in finishing times between the race champion McConnell in 16:04 and the race runner-up Jean in 16:09 with both runners achieving new 5K personal bests on the fast and flat course, the two runners were never really running together in the race.

McConnell shot out fast in the first mile with Jean always chasing him but never actually catching up to him staying in striking distance. McConnell had won his first invitational race earlier in the season at Lake Buena Vista Invite on September 18th with a then PR of 16:30, before chopping 26 seconds off that time this weekend at Tohopekaliga. 

Both runners competed last weekend at the HOKA Invitational in the Jason Byrne Invitational division race with Jean winning out in that head to head with a third-place finish of 16:41 putting him 11 seconds ahead of McConnell in seventh place at 16:52. Jean's fastest race prior came in a third-place showing at the West Orange Invitational earlier this season with a 16:11 performance.

The two should be contenders for titles in the conference championships later this month with McConnell in the Metro West Conference and Jean in the Orange Belt Conference. 

In the team competition, pack running served the Melbourne boys well with only a 22 second spread separating their top 5 winners to secure the invitational victory with a team score of 60 points putting them comfortably ahead of the runner-up squad Lake Highland Prep with 90 points. 

Their scorers came in a swarm from places #6 thru #17 between Jackson Wangensteen leading the way in sixth place and their lone runner under 17 minutes at 16:57 and then followed by Jaiden Martingano (8th, 17:06), Gabriel Good (13th, 17:15), Alston Jaudon (16th, 17:19), and Chase Riley (17th, 17:19).

Lake Highland Prep was able to hold off Winter Park in close proximity with 99 points for the runner-up team trophy and were led by the third-place overall individual finisher in senior Josh Webster posting a quick time of 16:34 to drop 13 seconds off his prior personal best from the Hagerty Invitational.