4A girls race preview for the 2023 FHSAA State XC Championships on Friday, November 17th at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Florida.
Team Favorites: Buchholz
The two-time defending state champions from Buchholz are arguably stronger and certainly deeper than their 2021 and 2022 state champions squads coming off a dominant team win at the 4A Region 1 race and boast a season best team average of 19:01, which is nearly 30 seconds faster than the next best team in 4A.
Buchholz only graduated one runner from their 2022 squad returning an All-State runner in Lucy Voss, while Eleanor Whisler was 16th in last year's race and has become the team's top performer this season. They also benefited from some depth reinforcements to their lineup with 6 girls breaking 20 minutes this season compared to only 5 in 2022 and 4 in 2021.
The Braddock girls were the state runners-up one year ago behind Buchholz and have the core of that lineup back to try and remain on the podium. The Sunlake girls have had an infusion of freshmen talent to their roster to position them well for a podium finish and coming off a 30 point win at the 4A Region 2 meet.
Niceville and East Ridge went to a sixth runner tiebreaker to determine the runner-up squad at 4A Region 1, while Creekside led by Alyson Johnson was only 8 points off both teams in the always deep regional. Plant has a rich history of state titles under Coach Roy Harrison and their pack running is one of the best in the state.
Individual Favorites: Alyson Johnson (Creekside)
Johnson won a pair of state titles last spring as a freshman on the track for the 1600 and 3200 meter run and is now looking to win her first championship in cross country. Johnson has not lost to any 4A runners this season and was clear ahead of the competition at the 4A Region 1 meet in a 17:54 performance.
The Creekside sophomore ran her 5K personal best of 17:49 on the state meet course in a fourth place finish at the FSU Pre-State Invite. Johnson is the only entrant in the field that has broken 18 minutes at the ARP and will likely require someone to join her under 18 to seriously challenge her on Friday for the win.
Individual Contenders: Gianna Del Pizzo (Lehigh), Addison Elwell (Viera), Annabella Cardona (Braddock), Mackenzie Roy (Spruce Creek), Arianna Roy (Spruce Creek)
Two of the closest challengers to Johnson will be regional champions from last week that are both looking to erase bad memories from their last trip to Tallahassee at the FSU Pre-State Invitational as 4A Region.2 champion Gianna Del Pizzo collapsed and didn't finish the race, while 4A Region 3 champion Addison Elwell of Viera was dealing with a side stitch cramp and had her slowest race (64th, 20:00) of the season. Both have shown as of late what they are truly capable of as Del Pizzo ran 18:04 at her district meet, while Elwell ran 18:04 as well at her conference meet. The senior Del Pizzo (13th) and sophomore Elwell (14th) are returning All-State finishers from last November's 4A race.
Meanwhile, Annabella Cardona of Braddock will not only be looking to lead her team back on the podium again but herself individually should be in the mix among the top pack after running 18:40 at Tropical Park in Miami for a second straight 4A Region 4 title. She is the second highest returnee from last year's state race when she placed 4th to lead her squad onto the podium. The Roy twins of Spruce Creek should tag team together as well to challenge the 3 other regional champions after finishing second and third respectively behind Creekside's Johnson at the 4A Region 1 race.