Patrick Koon & Company Ready For Sub 15 Races At New World

This weekend's New World Fall Spectacular at Cecil Field in Jacksonville will be the last major cross country invitational of the 2023 season in Florida before the attention turns to prepping for championship season with conference, league and county championship meets then district championships for the last half of October to start the FHSAA state series followed by the regionals in early November then the FHSAA State Finals on Friday, November 17th.

Meet director Richard Fannin is always hard at work not only prepping the New World course for fast times, but always putting in the same effort to recruit top teams and runners to his events.

This weekend's race could have the potential to see the course and meet record for the boys go down as well as potentially a Florida high school all-time 5K cross country performance with Leon senior Patrick Koon in the field. Koon has run 14:43 in a cross country race, while 14:11 on an indoor track at the 5K distance. He won the FSU Pre-State Invitational two weeks ago in 14:50 at Apalachee Regional Park over the runner who currently owns the fastest time in the state this season as well as all-time in cross country in Joshua Ruiz of Belen Jesuit, who posted 14:38 winning time in Huntsville, Alabama in September at the Southern Stampede.

The two 5K courses used at Cecil Field can run similarly fast as the course in Huntsville with the long flat straightaways and gradual turns. Two years ago, Rheinhardt Harrison of Nease set the course and meet record with a 14:45 performance and also pulled along Michael Toppi of Viera in second place at 14:55, Koon as a sophomore in third at 15:05, and Matthew Stratton in fourth place at 15:10 to fast PR times across the board.

Koon now may find himself in a similar role on Saturday with six runners in the race that might seriously challenge the Stanford commit seriously for an upset win, but will not mind the assist in being pulled along to a fast time with him in a time trial mindset race before they switch to championship season racing that might be more strategic.

There is definitely a real opportunity for not only Koon to take down Rheinhardt Harrison's record, but also best Ruiz's 14:38 earlier this season to become the Florida high school all-time leader at the 5K distance in cross country. It would only add to Koon's legacy as he currently owns state records for the 5K on the track from his indoor nationals performance as well as the 3200 meter run outdoors from his 8:44 race at Arcadia last April.

The chase pack behind Koon will include the likes of defending 4A state champion Matt Ryan of Nease, David Serra of Ransom Everglades, Henry Stark of Palmer Trinity, Memphis Rich of Georgia Hill, Graham Myers of Fleming Island, and Riley Smith of Buchholz with all six runners having run under 15:20 this season.

It is a strong likelihood that all 4 eventual state champions could come out of this race between Ryan favored to repeat in 4A, Koon certainly the favorite to 3-peat in 3A, Serra as the top returnee and last year's runner-up in 2A, and Stark with the fastest time and performer right now in the 1A classification. 

The question is if any runner among that group or could multiple join Koon in breaking 15 minutes for the first time at New World? Matt Ryan has been painfully close in his last two races with a 15:02 run at adidas XC Challenge in North Carolina then running 15 minutes flat in a third place finish at FSU Pre-State Invite behind only Patrick Koon and Joshua Ruiz. It seems like third time would be the charm for him to finally get under 15 this weekend after his last two pursuits. 

Both Serra and Stark ran under 15:10 in oppressively humid conditions on Friday afternoon of the Spanish River Invitational three weekends ago and should have much cooler temperatures to race in on Saturday morning in Jacksonville. 

Smith has been one of the state's most improved cross country runners including a big win at the Katie Caples Invitational against Myers then a breakthrough PR race at FSU Pre-State Invite in 15:18. His 5K personal best prior to this season was 17:01 as he was viewed primarily as a middle distance specialist, but has showed his improved range. 

The team competition for boys should be super competitive as well especially with some of the very best teams in 4A matching up once again in Nease, Buchholz, and Creekside.

Nease has definitely established themselves as the team to beat after a third place showing at the FSU Pre-State Invitational and also a runner-up finish at the adidas XC Challenge. They will look to lower their season best team average of 15:51 for their top 5 runners even lower this weekend at New World. After skipping out on major Jacksonville area meets such as Cecil Field Summer Classic and Katie Caples Invitational, this will be the first time this season that the Nease boys put on a show for the local fans in Jacksonville. 

Buchholz has really stepped up this season led by Riley Smith, Emerson Miller, and Gino Palazollo all capable of running under 16 minutes to position themselves as a potential podium team after watching their girls team win back to back state cross country team titles in 4A. Buchholz started their regular season with a fourth place finish at Cecil Field and would like to gain momentum into championship season with a win at the same venue on Saturday. 

Meanwhile, Creekside cannot count out as the defending state champions for 4A and have much more competitive than anticipated after major graduation losses from their 2022 lineup led by Tanner Simonds and a total of six runners under 17 minutes this season. 

The 3A classification will also have some of the better teams present at New World between Ponte Vedra, Fleming Island, and Leon looking to battle again at the state meet for those spots in the pecking order after another Belen Jesuit state title in 3A. Naples not racing at New World currently appears to be the strongest team to be the state runner-up squad but Ponte Vedra, Fleming Island, and Leon all are capable of positioning themselves for a state runner-up push at season's end as well. 

Bishop Moore and Bartram Trail both rank among the top 20 fastest teams in the state and should find themselves competitive in this field and potential to upset and leapfrog the higher ranked teams ahead of them. will be on-site at the New World Fall Spectacular with video coverage by Chris Shonk and photo coverage by Cedric Gillette and Nancy Scott.