Recap: St. Leo Abbey Invitational

The St. Leo Abbey Invitational popped up this year to be one of the largest invitationals meets in the Tampa Bay region for high school, middle school, and elementary school teams on the Abbey Golf Course in St. Leo, Florida that hosted last fall's NCAA Division 2 Cross Country Championships. 

It was certainly beautiful grounds and felt like a more true cross-country course with plenty of hills, mud, and grass for the runners to navigate through whether at the 5K, 3K, or 2K distances. The meet certainly has the potential to be a premier and signature cross-country event for the region coupled with the college meet that started in the morning.

In the high school boys varsity race, Sarasota's Alec Miller ran his best cross country race ever as the 4:13 miler from the spring finally started to show his potential at the 5K distance in running away from the field and running a new personal best time of 16:03. It was a nice rebound race for Miller after finishing 19th with a time of 16:22 last week on a much faster and flatter course at North Port.

Runner-up in last week's elite race at North Port and runner-up again this week was Berkeley Prep senior Kirin Karver with a time of 16:22 and 19 seconds behind Miller. Berkeley Prep has been racing an incomplete varsity team (less than 5 runners), but Karver and sophomore teammate Liam Jordan (6th, 16:36) have been representing the team up front in recent major races.

Speaking of teams, the next finisher across the line was senior Albert Tawil-Brown leading the HB Plant boys to a decisive team victory by a margin of 41 points as their 61-point team total put them well ahead of Alec Miller's Sarasota boys with 102 points. To showcase how tough of a course it can be at the Abbey Golf Course, the winning squad Plant had a team average over 17 minutes for their top 5 runners at 17:06. George Dirks (9th, 16:45) and Tyler Rogers (20th, 17:07) joined teammate Tawil-Brown as top 20 finishers in the race. 

Other individuals with strong races to crack into the top 5 included Bloomingdale senior Thomas Schilling (4th, 16:33) and Zephyrhills junior William Poe (5th, 16:36) as only 13 runners in the race were able to break 17 minutes on a course that included a ravine ditch to run through the first 400 meters and a mammoth hill to crest over twice in the race. 

The girls race winner was a similar situation to the boys race winner in an outstanding performer in the mile from last spring that had a somewhat disappointing showing at North Port Invitational one week ago with the missed opportunity to pop a super fast time or PR in Academy of Holy Names sophomore Elizabeth Williamson.

Last year's 2A state 1600 meter champion Williamson figured to run a time closer to challenging 18 minutes flat and among the top finishers at North Port, but ended up with a ninth place effort of 18:48.

Williamson nearly put that time this weekend at St. Leo on a much more difficult course with a resounding victory on Saturday with a final time of 18:54 to win by a large margin of 36 seconds. She grabbed the lead in the first mile and never looked back and she continued to gap the field throughout as one of the top-ranked runners in the 2A classification.

The next closest runner to Williamson was Osceola senior Abigail Clements with a time of 19:30, who led last year's 3A state runner-up squad to their sixth invitational team title of the season despite missing one of their top runners in Elle Mehltretter. Osceola was still able to place 3 runners among the top 6 places with Clements, Avery Latto (5th, 19:46), and Kennedy Downey (6th, 19:54) all able to dip under 20 minutes on the Abbey Golf Course. Their top 4 is interchangeable week to week who will lead them as their first finisher

Osceola produced a team average of 20:29, which was 31 seconds faster than the second place squad from Berkeley Prep, who actually matched up well with Osceola thru 3 runners with Hannah Latif (3rd, 19:32), Emma Flowers (7th, 19:56), and Kylie Stephens (8th, 20:41) all finishing inside the top 10 places. 

Osceola with 53 points compared to Berkeley Prep with 98 points though was able to create more of a points buffer in the #4 and #5 runner positions. Both teams could be on the podium at the state meet in November, but in different classifications with Osceola in 3A and Berkeley Prep in 2A.

The battle for third place in the girls' team standings was a bit more closer between Robinson (3rd, 133 pts), Sarasota (4th, 141 pts), HB Plant (5th, 159 pts), and Academy of Holy Names (6th, 171 pts). Look out for the Robinson girls to potentially grab the Hillsborough County title later this season after beating Plant today and can match up well with another historically strong program in Newsome.