Team Favorites: Pensacola Christian Academy
That elusive podium finish and first state title for the Pensacola Christian girls that they have missed out on enjoying in the last two seasons despite being a legit contender seems to be in sight for this Friday as they emerge from the regional results as the most formidable team amongst all the state champion hopefuls.
Their top 3 all hovering in the low 18 minute range for 5K in the Tutton sisters Jaimee and RaeAnne along with Reagan Smith are just as good if not better than any top 3 for any team in the state regardless of classification and give them a huge advantage over the other top ranked teams for 1A. Last year, all 3 girls finished in the top 15 for All-State individual honors but still the team had to settle for a third place team finish behind Oak Hall and Cambridge CHristian.
Their remaining top 5 though has stepped up this year plus additional depth with a sixth and seventh runner in the low 20 minute range gives them extra security with #4 runner Sofia Peterlevitz just over 19 minutes with a 19:07 season best then their remaining varsity lineup Clare Goncalves, Eliana Reynolds, and Emma McLaughlin in a time range of 20:01 from 20:33.
Team Contenders: Oak Hall School, Cambridge Christian, Maclay School
Oak Hall is the team that cannot sleep on as they are still the defending state champions and last year chased down several teams who came in with faster times and much more fanfare than them as they kept a low profile entering the championship season. The 1A Region 2 champions only had one more graduation loss (#1 runner Sydney Miller) from last year's team and have 4 girls under 20 minutes this season in Mackenzie Klein, Valeria Beaver, Lola Murfee, and Alivia Dragstedt.
They finished 10th at the FSU Pre-State Invitational's elite race at mid-season, but they have closed the gap on the other top 1A teams since then. In order to repeat as champions and defeat Pensacola Christian and others, Oak Hall is really going to need to win the team battle in the #4 and #5 runner positions like they did one year ago over a front loaded Cambridge Christian squad.
Speaking of Cambridge Christian, a program that has been on the podium the last two years as the state champions in 2021 and 2022, if they make it on the podium again this year it will be even more impressive than the prior two considering they lost 3 of their top returnees from last year's team in Eliana Black, Madeleine Gear, and Avery Pham yet still find themselves in position to compete for a state title. The additions of transfers Hannah Kasper and Ava Hendrix have helped ease the pain and loss of those subtractions, while other varsity returnees Micah Friedman, Kaiya Budick, and Amirah Johnson helped keep the ship steady for another potential podium run.
The Maclay School girls have the likely individual champion in Couch to lead them and will need the rest of their top 5 to step up on state meet day to secure themselves a spot in the top 2. A historically successful local Tallahassee program, Maclay ran one of their better races of the season at the ARP earlier at the FSU Pre-State Invitational finishing fourth in the elite race behind only top ranked teams from other classes such as Bishop Kenny, Ponte Vedra, and Bolles while finishing 77 points ahead of the next best 1A school in Cambridge Christian. Maclay needs all 5 of their top 5 runners running the best on Friday as nearly a 2 minute gap exists between their #5 and #6 runners, so Lillian Koeppel, Susan Gracie Koeppel, and Mary Clayton Soto need to stay running in the low 19's and hopefully see Payton Thumm get her first sub 20 race of the season to key a top 2 podium finish.
One team to pay attention to that could potentially nip one of the contenders trying to chase after the favorites from PCA is The Master's Academy led by Ava Wyant, who has helped bring up the rest of her team as one of the state's top middle school runners. This year's squad has lineup that has two of her teammates in Avery Gervias and Maria Newman running in the 19 minute range and three other teammates running in the 20 minute range. Master's Academy was competitive close to Oak Hall as the runner-up team at the 1A Region 2 meet by
Individual Favorites: Caroline Couch (Maclay School)
The Maclay School sophomore Caroline Couch has stood as the top performer in 1A throughout the cross country season running times in the low 18 minute range and was the 1A Region 1 champion last week sitting back for most of the race before making a move to take over first place and the win from the top girls from Pensacola Christian in the final stretch.
Couch was the top 1A finisher at FSU Pre-State Invitational with a sixth place finish of 18:14 in the elite race. She will be looking to not only win her first state title but dip under 18 minutes as well after running under 18:20 in her last 6 races with a PR of 18:09.
Individual Contenders: Sienna Audrey (Community School of Naples), Jaimee Tutton (Pensacola Christian), RaeAnne Tutton (Pensacola Christian), Reagan Smith FL (Pensacola Christian), Mary Summers (Seven Rivers Christian), Hannah Kasper (Cambridge Christian), Emma Wilkinson (Lakeland Christian), Ava Wyant (The Master's Academy)
The Pensacola Christian girls will certainly be well represented in the lead pack with their trio of the Tutton sisters and Smith. Last week, they were leading 1A's #1 ranked runner Couch until the final straightaway at the regional meet and could find themselves in a similar spot with Couch after climbing the wall. Their odds are certainly higher with 3 of them to potentially pull off the upset this week and certainly will would only build their momentum for a state team title as well.
Meanwhile, amongst the other 3 regional champions in 1A, Sienna Audrey from Community School of Naples might be the most impressive amongst that bunch as her winning time of 18:37 on the tough Holloway Park course for the 1A Region 3 victory was arguably superior in scale of course difficulty to Couch's 18:16 at New World Sports Complex for the 1A Region 1 race. The sophomore Audrey has also raced fast when presented with a speedway course such as her 18:00 personal best performance at the North Port Invitational.
Finishing ahead of her at the North Port Invitational, but finishing third behind her at the 1A Region 3 race is the only runner in the classification to break 18 minutes on the season in Cambridge Christian's Hannah Kasper with a 17:57 5K season best from North Port. Kasper seems to have really taken running to another level this year changing schools from Calvary Christian to Cambridge Christian with consistent performances in the low to mid 18 minute range this season. Her teammate Ava Hendrix is also immensley talented as a sub 11 minute performer for 3200 meters in her first season of cross country at Cambridge Christian with a 18:15 5K season best best.
Mary Summers is only a seventh grader at Seven Revers Christian, so she has a bright future ahead of her with many years of high school cross country to come but wasted no time in winning the 1A Region 2 race over a solid field including the likes of sub 5 minute miler and 800 meter state champion Ava Wyant of The Master's Academy. Another middle school grade level runner to watch in the race is Lakeland Christian eight grader Emma Wilkinson, who finished in between Audrey and the Cambridge duo of Kasper and Hendrix at the 1A Region 3 meet with a time of 19:06.
Speaking of Wyant, she is the top returnee from last year's 1A state race when she finished fourth place with a time of 18:33. Wyant has also thrived more on the track as a middle distance specialist and not always been as consistent at the longer 5K distance, but on the right day can put it together and show her immense talent over her competitors and showed last November in her state meet finish.