Note: Eastbay Regionals has now updated the number of national qualifiers back to 10 per region after initially announcing only 8 per region earlier this season.
Arguably the state's top 4 best cross country runners this fall will all be in North Carolina this weekend at the Eastbay South Regional competing for the 8 spots to qualify for the national championship in San Diego between 3A state champion Caroline Wells of Winter Springs, 2A state champion Jillian Candelino of Boles, 1A state champion Caroline Lehman of Cambridge Christian, and 1A state runner-up Mary Ellen Eudaly of Cambridge Christian.
With a 16:40 5K state record best in cross country (as well as 16:16 record on the track), Wells has the potential to run the fastest time ever recorded by a runner from Florida in the regional race with 16:56 by Kayla Hale as the time to beat. She just ran 16:56 on a much tougher course at the state meet, which should project her to run in the 16:40's or faster in Charlotte.
Wells is certainly a favorite and contender to win the overall regional title in a highly anticipated battle with Texas state champion Natalie Cook of Flower Mound with a 16:32 5K best. Ironically, the Wells family is from Texas so it will be a faceoff between two runners with Longhorn state roots.
Candelino, Lehman, and Eudaly all have a shot at slipping inside a very competitive region and slip inside the top 8. The meet in prior years had allowed 10 individuals to qualify from the regionals to nationals, so tightening up the cut-off at 8 will just make the race for San Diego just that much tougher.
It will certainly require a season or personal best 5K effort by all in order to do it. The 8th place finishing time in the last 5 South regional races went as followed: 17:27 in 2019, 17:25 in 2018, 17:30 in 2017, 17:44 in 2016, 17:34 in 2015.
Candelino has run a best of 17:36 this season on a much tougher Apalachee Regional Park course for the Pre-State meet as well as a 17:38 performance on a comparable North Carolina course at WakeMed Soccer Complex in Cary. She has been one of the more consistent and steady performers in Florida this year with her breakout campaign leading Bolles to a record 13th state team title in 2A. Her only loss of the season came to Wells in the FSU Pre-State Invitational.
With all the team success that the Bolles program has enjoyed over the years, one thing that has not been accomplished yet is sending an individual qualifier to Eastbay/Foot Locker/Kinney Nationals, so the junior Candelino has an opportunity to achieve a historical first for one of Florida's most successful all-time teams.
Both Lehman and Eudaly looked like sure bet national qualifier caliber runners after their track seasons running into the mid 4:40's for the 1600 and mid 10:10's for the 3200-meter run to rank among the top 25 in the country. Their track times would have projected them running well into the 17-minute range this cross country season and Lehman actually broke 17 minutes for 5K indoors last February with a 16:53 victory at the adidas Indoor Nationals.
With season bests of 17:51 for Eudaly and 17:53 for Lehman, the historic duo from Cambridge Christian has yet to pop that mid 17 minute or faster performance that likely will need on Saturday. It would be good timing to make that time drop to match up with their track times though at McAlpine Greenway Park this weekend.
Its been a rare feat for two runners from the same team to qualify for Eastbay (formerly Foot Locker) Nationals in the same year. The Fluehr twins Kathryn and Erika from Community School of Naples were the last Florido teammates to qualify together for nationals at the 2010 South Regional race when they enjoyed a 1-2 finish in Charlotte.
There are almost a half dozen more Florida girls set to race at the Eastbay South Regional who posted times this season among the top 18 minutes 5K range and could place high in the seeded race as well as the grade level races if they opt to do so.
Olympia freshman Emily Knopfle (18:36 PR) could set herself up for future national berth chasing races with a fast time and strong finish in her first Eastbay South Regional race. Other top runners in that next pack of Florida girls to watch include South Fork sophomore Addison Boyer, Oak Hall senior Lauren Jones, and Lake Minneola senior Lily Henne all finishing well inside the top 10 for All-State finishes two Fridays ago. Henne also won the FACA All-Star Senior Meet last Friday.
Florida Girls Top 100 Ranked Racing At Eastbay South Regional
|RANK||TIME||ATHLETE/TEAM||GRADE||MEET DATE PLACE|
Winter Springs HS
Cambridge (Christian) School
Cambridge (Christian) School
South Fork HS
Oak Hall School
Lake Minneola HS
Lake Placid HS
Bishop Moore HS
The King's Academy
Bishop Moore HS
Mount Dora HS
Bobcat Classic 2nd
The Master's Academy (Oviedo)
Fleming Island HS