Riley Novack Qualifies For Champs XC Nationals

Montverde Academy senior Riley Novack was the lone Florida runner to qualify for nationals out of the Champs XC South Regional qualifier on Charlotte, North Carolina on Saturday. He ended up being the lone individual national qualifier from either of the two regional qualifier races held simultaneously on the same day in North Carolina from the state of Florida either male or female.

If would have looked back just a few weeks ago around the state meet and would have projected that to be the case, most would have said that would be a crazy prediction. Novack had finished third in the FHSAA 2A state race with a season best time of 15:31 at Apalachee Regional Park. On Saturday, Novack ran a 5K personal best of 14:59 to finish sixth in the seeded race at the Champs XC South Regional to be among the top 10 finalists moving onto the national race to be held on Saturday, December 10th. 

After only competing in two races during the regular season prior to the district meet, Novack has a much busier schedule of races in the post-season including a 15:54 victory at Holloway Park in the FACA Senior All-Star Meet then dropping a huge 3200 meter PR of 9:10 in last weekend's PR Festival On The Track. 

Traditionally a fast starter in his races, Novack actually paced himself well in the field finding himself in the top 15 after the lone hill on the course at McAlpine Greenway at the halfway point of the race then moving himself into the top 10 after the two mile mark. A strong close was able to secure him a spot to San Diego in sixth place and significant 5K PR time drop of 14:59.

He will now head to the Champs XC National Championship race in two weeks as the Florida's sole representative in a field of the country's 40 best high school cross country runners with 10 runners advancing from all 4 regions.

The runner-up in the 2A state race ahead of Novack earlier this month in Ransom Everglades junior David Serra finished a strong and respectable 18th place as well just off his personal best at 15:26. It was the finish to a great first cross country season for Serra, who ran cross country this fall after a breakthrough spring track season dropping his 800 meter time down to 1:52 last June as a sophomore. 

Braxton Legg, the 2022 FHSAA 1A state race winner from Cambridge Christian who was a runner-up last week to Novack in the 3200 at Viera High School with a 9:11 personal best performance, was Florida's third highest finisher at Champs South Regional in a time of 15:37 for 30th place. 

Another top runner from the 1A classification in Oak Hall School senior Caden Montini finished 42nd in the seeded race with a time of 15:47. Montini ran 4:22 last week for 1600 meters to tune up with some speed at the PR Festival On The Track. 

Beyond those top four from Florida, there were four more runners breaking 16 minutes on the day in Charlotte including Palmetto Ridge's Bernardo Barnhart (46th, 15:48), Berkeley Prep's Kirin Karver (47th, 15:50), and the Viera pair of Cameron Raney (52nd, 15:55) and Aedan Rendek (55th, 15:56). 

One notable absence from the race was Leon junior Patrick Koon, a national qualifier last year that was hoping to qualify once again this year for a trip to San Diego. The two-time FHSAA 3A state champion who broke the state meet and course record this year at Apalachee Regional Park while also having a 5K cross country best of 14:43 from earlier this season suffered a back injury while training in between the state meet and the Champs South Regional that prevented him from making the trip to Charlotte to race. 

Leading the contingency of Florida girls racing at the Champs South Regional was Cardinal Mooney junior Addison Dempsey as the 2A state runner-up from this fall was five places and 16 seconds off a nationals berth with her 15th place showing and time of 17:48. Dempsey has had a remarkable breakout cross country season to go from a relatively unknown last year to becoming one of Florida's best runners this fall now recording her third sub 18 minute performance of the season. 

Next to cross the line from Florida in the championship girls race was St. Brendan senior Emma Hencock as she recorded a time of 18:31 for 30th place in the field of 121 runners. 

Rounding out the top 5 finishers from Florida in the top division race after Dempsey and Hencock were Bishop Moore senior Paige McCaul (39th, 18:42), Berkeley Prep's Hannah Latif (47th, 18:55), and Winter Springs senior Simone Monaco (53rd, 19:00). Bishop Verot sophomore Mackenzie De Lisle (56th, 19:02) and Megan Dolan (57th, 19:03) were just outside of the top 50 and just over 19 minutes flat amongst the Florida competitors.

Hayden Tank had the best Florida performance beyond the championship seed races as the Southwest Florida Christian runner won the senior race at the Champs XC South Regional with a time of 16:27 finishing six seconds ahead of his next closest competitor. 

Athletes from other Southwest Florida schools also represented well in the other grade level races with Hector Toro of Naples as the Florida finisher in the junior boys race with a time of 16:57, while Craig Allard Jr. (9th, 16:42) of Fort Myers and Jack Marshall (11th, 16:51) of Naples both dipped under 17 minutes as well as among the top 15 in the sophomore boys race. Viera's Michael Girard led Team Florida in the freshmen boys race with a time of 17:29 for 19th place. 

Mount Dora's Noelle Vu (8th, 19:49) and St. Brendan's Kaycie Aquilino (10th, 19:53) were top 10 finishers in the junior/senior girls race, while Vu's Mount Dora teammate Hannah Douglas had a great run of 19:21 for 7th place in the freshmen/sophomore girls race as Florida's top finishers in the class girls  races.