Leon senior Lillee Tang proved herself down the final stretch of the 2022 cross country season as one of Florida's very best high school cross country runners. From her victory in the 3A state race over more heralded runners and favorites during the course of the season to finish in between Eliana Black and Jillian Candelino as the state's top two ranked runners all fall at the Team Southeast Regional in Cary, Tang has been on a roll over the last month plus of racing.
She added to her resumé on Saturday in Huntsville, Alabama at the Garmin RunningLane National Championship gold girls race as the only Florida athlete male or female to earn All-American honors with a top 20 finish in the top seeded race with her 15th place finishing time of 18:14 in the second to last race of the day after prior rain this week and overnight chewed up the course with mud from the 3,000 plus competitors.
The unsigned senior certainly is one of the top remaining distance runners left to make a college decision in the coming weeks and months. With much focus on the Leon program belonging rightfully so to junior Patrick Koon, who had run 14:43 earlier this season on the same John Hunt Park 5K course at the Southern Stampede, Tang really stepped up to shine in the post-season for their program when the returning Champs Nationals qualifier Koon could not race due to a back injury suffered.
Running with Lillee Tang for a good portion of the race and ultimately finishing 30th overall in the championship gold girls race as the second highest finisher from Florida was Evangelical Christian senior and FSU signee Ava Povich, who followed up her sub 18 minute performance on the track last week at the flrunners.com PR Festival On The Track, with a solid 18:31 effort in adverse conditions in Huntsville.
The third finisher from Florida and racing with a heavy heart was Rockledge junior Malinda Underwood (35th, 18:35) as her father passed away this past week after being struck by a vehicle while crossing a road. Somehow Underwood was still able to lace up the spikes while grieving and put forth a gutsy and inspired effort in honor of her father. If you would like to donate to help Malinda's family help with the funeral costs, can go to the link here.
Two other girls from Florida dipped under 19 minutes in the mud in the championship race to round out the top 5 with 3A state runner-up Ashley Fitzgerald (45th, 18:48) of American Heritage and 4A state champion Emma O'Day (57th, 18:59) of Boca Raton. Both were coming off sub 11 minute 3200 performances just last weekend at the PR Festival On The Track.
The Pensacola Christian girls were the top finishing Florida team in the championship race with 405 points for 16th place followed by the 4A state runner-up squad from Braddock in 18th place with 454 points along with Bishop Kenny (22nd, 543 pts) and Niceville (25th, 587 pts).
In the championship gold boys race, the 4A state champion team in Creekside led the way from Team Florida with their 13th place finishing in the elite 29 team field with 360 points. Creekside was still able to put 5 runners under 17 minutes despite the course conditions including being paced by the state's fastest individual performer of the meet in junior Tanner Simonds with a 48th place effort of 15:48.
Rounding out their top 5 scoring were Jackson Dravo (83rd, 16:04), Hudson Finnochio (177th, 16:46), Jacob Harvey (191th, 16:54), and Jonathan Elliott (199th, 16:59). Creekside thrived on pack running for their successful season and certainly an even tighter spread among their top 5 in Huntsville could have pushed them inside the top 10. They will graduate several key seniors from this year's squad, but first year cross country runner Tanner Simonds will return and certainly be one of the state's top tier individuals to watch next fall in year two of running cross country.
Both Buchholz's Emerson Miller (50th, 15:49) and Fleming Island's Graham Myers (65th, 15:57) also joined Simonds breaking 16 minutes in the championship gold race with sold finishes in the conditions.
Another sub 16 minute performance by a Florida runner came in the silver division race prior from Chiles senior and William & Mary commit Wyatt Townsend. Townsend rarely gets a chance to celebrate a first place finish, but consistently finds himself near the front of every race including in the silver race at RunningLane with a very strong performance of 15:53 to medal with his 9th place finish.
Similarly, Keswick Christian's Ella Beckett also earned herself a spot on the awards podium in the silver girls race as she recorded a time of 18:53 to grab 10th place with the fourth fastest Florida girls performance on the entire day.
Earlier in the meet during the bronze division race, the Braddock boys competing as Miami Vice Project celebrated a team victory in first place for their race by a landslide with a margin of 81 points with a top 5 spread under a minute with Andres Canas (16:37), Aidan Mendoza (17:18), Luccas Torres (17:19), Mauricio Escaloma (17:29), and Andre Santos (17:37) comprising their scoring 5.