The 2023 Cecil Field Summer Classic will once again be one of the best early season high school cross country invitationals one can find in the state of Florida and might take the FSU Pre-State Invitational over a month away to find another meet between now and then as competitive.
Gathering in Jacksonville this week will include many state champion programs from a year ago including the 1A boys champions Indian Rocks Christian, 2A boys champions Bolles, 4A boys champions Creekside, 2A girls champions Bolles, and 4A girls champions Buchholz.
Indian Rocks Christian made a strong debut in last year's Cecil Field Summer Classic and comes back with the experience and arguably their strongest lineup in the program's history even after coming off two straight state championship seasons. Indian Rocks has six runners back who went sub 17 for 5K last fall including two sub 16 minute performers in Nicholas Zamora and Aidan Griffin.
Both Bolles and Creekside suffered graduation losses from their lineups a year ago, but will both be right in contention among the very best teams in their classification this fall with their depth and new names ready to step up in the varsity lineup. Bolles should see Christopher Joost and Parker Adams as two of the top finishers in Friday night's race. Adams in particular interested to see how he keeps the momentum going from his inspired state runner-up 3200 meter finish in 2A this past spring.
Beyond those two returning state champion squads in the field at Cecil Field includes highly preseason ranked squads at Fleming Island, Hagerty, Bishop Kenny, and Cambridge Christian who all hope to be podium teams in their respective classifications this fall and are well positioned to do so.
With Patrick Koon and Leon not returning to this year's race, a new boys race champion will be crowned in 2023 and arguably the two top names to watch in the race for first place should be Graham Myers of Fleming Island and Jonathan Leon of Hagerty as both runners were state runners-up in the 3200 meter run this past May in the 3A and 4A classifications respectively.
Myers ran 15:17 for 5K last fall and is the second highest returnee from last year's Cecil Field Summer Classic when he placed 8th with a time of 15:47.
The highest returnee from last year's race belongs to Creekside senior Tanner Simonds, who in his very first high school cross country race last year finished 7th with a time of 15:47 just edging out Myers. Simonds is the top holdover from last year's 4A state champion squad at Creekside and dropped his 1600 meter time this past spring down to a speedy 4:12.
This will be the first time for Jonathan Leon and the Hagerty squad racing at Cecil Field, so will be interesting to see how he fares despite unfamiliarity with the course and race. Leon was fourth in last year's 4A state cross country race and ran 9:09 for full two miles indoors.
The Bolles duo of Joost and Adams could definitely be in a factor in the race while trying to lead their team to the title and the same could be said for Indian Rocks Christian's top returnees such as Nick Zamora, Aidan Griffin, and Blake Young. Their projected fourth runner Jonah Berry was a top 5 finisher at the Wickham Park Jamboree last weekend to showcase how front loaded they are going to be this fall.
Fleming Island will be one of the better teams in 3A this season especially with Graham Myers and John Keester IV leading the way for them with times in the 15 minute range.
However, Cambridge Christian will have two runners expected to compete with the leaders and challenge for first in sub 11 minute two milers Madeleine Gear and Ava Hendrix. Gear was fifth in last year's Cecil Field race with a time of 18:27.
Only one runner returning finished ahead of her in the 4A girls 3200 meter state champion Malinda Underwood of Rockledge. Underwood is one of only have dozen returning girls in the state of Florida who broke 18 minutes for 5K last season.
A team making the trip all the way from Fort Myers to compete and bringing with them their star runner will be Bishop Verot as junior Mackenzie De Lisle will undoubtedly be one of the best runners in Southwest Florida this season after running 17:51 for 5K and 10:51 for 3200 meters on the track as a sophomore.
Speaking of track success and seeing how it will translate this fall, if Alyson Johnson races this cross country season like she did on the track as a freshmen at Creekside including winning the 4A girls 1600 and 3200 meter titles then she could be the top favorite to win at Cecil Field Summer Classic even including the likes of Underwood, Gear, De Lisle and others. Johnson has the 35th fastest returning 5K time in the state at 18:46, but no in the state believes she is the 35th best cross country runner in Florida. Try amongst the top 5 as a more accurate assessment.
Another runner in that same situation, who made great strides in improving during her freshmen track season is Maclay School sophomore Caroline Couch who like Johnson ran under 11 minutes in several 3200 meter races this past spring and should blow her 5K PR out of the water from the start of the 2023 season.
The team races will be very intriguing to see who comes out on top of the heap on Friday night at the New World Golf Course in Jacksonville.
The 1A classification for girls is going to be brutal for the two podium spots this year and despite missing defending state champions Oak Hall from this meet, we will get to see three other teams in serious podium contention between Maclay School, Cambridge Christian, and Pensacola Christian.
Pensacola Christian has the Tutton sisters, while Maclay School has the a pair of sisters in the Koeppel's as the leaders in their lineup.
Meanwhile, Bolles girls have a stranglehold still on the 2A classification in keeping their streak of state titles rolling into 2023 likely. They typically approach Cecil Field as a glorified tempo run but their depth can still propel them to a potential season opening win with some new faces to lead their squad up front with the graduation of three All-State seniors Jillian Candelino, Ella Mickler, and Elizabeth Csikai.
The two-time 4A state champion Buchholz girls only graduated their top runner Kate Drummond from their squad and their returning runners have plenty of experience racing at Cecil Field that they have a legitimate shot at winning on Friday. Lucy Voss and Eleanor Whisler as sub 19 minute performers are ready to take over for Drummond.
Episcopal and Bishop Kenny girls will likely be battling for the second runner-up spot in the 2A classification behind Bolles again this year and will get the first of many matchups between those two teams on Friday.
Florida Returning Ranking Based On Times Alone
Top Boys Teams To Watch
FL #2 Indian Rocks Christian
FL #3 Fleming Island
FL #4 Bolles
FL #9 Creekside
FL #14 Hagerty
FL #17 Bishop Kenny
FL #20 Cambridge Christian
FL #22 Buchholz
FL #26 Bartram Trail
Top Boys Individuals To Watch
FL #3 Graham Myers (Fleming Island)
FL #5 Jonathan Leon (Hagerty)
FL #10 Christopher Joost (Bolles)
FL #11 Tanner Simonds (Creekside)
FL #15 John Keester IV (Fleming Island)
FL #16 Nicholas Zamora (Indian Rocks Christian)
FL #26 Aidan Griffin (Indian Rocks Christian)
FL #30 Clayton Knight (Vanguard)
FL #33 Andrew Marello (Wolfson)
FL #35 Blake Young (Indian Rocks Christian)
FL #42 Christian Escribano (Cambridge Christian)
Parker Adams (Bolles)
Top Girls Teams To Watch
FL #2 Maclay School
FL #3 Cambridge Christian
FL #4 Bolles
FL #6 Pensacola Christian
FL #7 Episcopal
FL #8 Buchholz
FL #10 Bishop Kenny
FL #11 St. Augustine
FL #13 Fleming Island
FL #21 Creekside
FL #29 Ocala Vanguard
FL #30 Mount Dora
Top Girls Individuals To Watch
FL #4. Malinda Underwood (Rockledge)
FL #7. Mackenzie De Lisle (Bishop Verot)
FL #8. Madeleine Gear (Cambridge Christian)
FL #10. Lauren Voutour (St. Augustine)
FL #18. Susan Gracie Koeppel (Maclay School)
FL #20. Katelyn Lawrence (St. Augustine)
FL #25. Raenne Tutton (Pensacola Christian)
FL #26. Jaimee Tutton (Pensacola Christian)
FL #35. Alyson Johnson (Creekside)
FL #37. Lucy Voss (Buchholz)
FL #40. Reagan Smith (Pensacola Christian)
FL #43. Lillian Koeppel (Maclay School)
FL #45 Eleanor Whisler (Buchholz)
FL #46. Lucrezia Gowdy (Episcopal School)
Caroline Couch (Maclay School)
Ava Hendrix (Cambridge Christian)