4A boys race preview for the 2023 FHSAA State XC Championships on Friday, November 17th at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Florida.
The 4A boys team race really cannot distinguish Buchholz or Nease over the other as a clear cut team favorite after Nease appeared for the majority of the season as the top team in the classification until Buchholz knocked them off by 4 points for the 4A Region 1 title last Friday in Jacksonville.
Nease led by defending individual state champion Matt Ryan has been one of only a handful of team in recent Florida high school history to see an entire top 5 break 16 minutes for 5K with Ryan (15:00 PR), Finn Thomas (15:29), Sai Jayaraman (15:30), Nate Corkran (15:51), and Wyatt Pittman (15:56). The Nease boys were the second highest finishing Florida school at the FSU Pre-State Invite behind only nationally ranked Belen Jesuit out of 3A, while also team champions at the New World Fall Spectacular just before championship season begin.
Nease has been ranked as high as among the top 5 teams in the entire Southeast this season after finishing as a runner-up at the adidas XC Challenge in North Carolina back in September.
Finishing 46 points behind them as the runner-up at New World were the boys from Buchholz, who closed the gap dramatically on Nease on the same course last week to upset them for the regional title.
Buchholz has had a stout top 3 all season long with sub 15:30 performers Riley Smith, Evan Fleming, and Gino Palazzolo but their #4 and #5 runners have stepped up in the last half of the season in Samuel Freas (15:58) and Calum Watson (16:27) to put them in a position to potentially sweep the 4A state team titles with their two-time defending champion girls squad at Buchholz.
The key for Nease to rebound from their regional loss will be getting their #3 runner Jai Jayaraman back to his early season form as while he ran 15:30 earlier this season, he ran 16:45 at the regional meet which was a significant point swing to make them vulnerable for the loss on that given day.
The Buchholz boys though definitely seem to be peaking at the right time to make it a fiercely competitive team battle looming for 4A.
Team Contenders: Hagerty, Sunlake, Christopher Columbus
If Buchholz and Nease hold serve to finish 1-2 in the 4A race that means there will be several other teams in 4A who could very well be podium or state champion teams in other classifications that will not be amongst the top 2 with the likes of Hagerty, Sunlake, and Christopher Columbus.
Hagerty is a very sneaky under the radar team to watch as while they finished third at their regional meet in 4A Region 1, they were definitely within striking distance of both Buchholz (65 pts) and Nease (69 pts) with their score of 79 points. Led by individual contender and sub 15 performer Jonathan Leon, Hagerty also has two more sub 16 performers in Gabriel Abbate and Jacob Leon plus a remaining top 7 well under 17 minutes.
Sunlake intentionally treated their 4A Region 2 race as a glorified tempo run, but have shown when going full throttle in earlier season invitationals as one of the best teams in the 4A classificaiton led by the Hindman brothers Joshua (15:19 5K) and Christian (15:22) as well as Cade Culpeper (15:38), Joaquin Abansas (16:06), and Oscar Brown (16:20). They will need all 5 to perform on Friday as their depth is lacking beyond their scoring 5 compared to the other contenders without a sixth man under 17 minutes.
A team that is not lacking in sub 17 runners, but looking for more of their pack to move up into the 15 minute range is last year's 4A state runners-up Christopher Columbus to see if they can get back on the podium as a top 2 finishing squad. The 4A Region 4 champions have a strong front runner and All-State caliber runner in Alejandro Romagosa, but will be looking for a tight pack of their remaining top 5 including Alexander Lopez, Mario Sueiras, Anthony Scarcello, and Daniel Garcia all ranging with season best times from 15:59 to 16:08 to move up as a group to match up better with likes of Buchholz and Nease.
Individual Favorites: Riley Smith (Buchholz), Jonathan Leon (Hagerty), Matt Ryan (Nease)
We did not have to wait to see the 4A boys state meet race play out this week, we saw it last at 4A Region 1 with the three strongest hopefuls to be this year's individual state champion between reigning state champion Matt Ryan of Nease, sub 15 minute performer Jonathan Leon of Hagerty, and Riley Smith of Buchholz.
Ryan ended up having to settle for third in the race with a time of 15:16, but cannot be counted out this week at the state level as not only the defending champion but ran 15 minutes flat on the course earlier this season in a third place finish at the FSU Pre-State Invitational. It might require a sub 15 effort for someone to win this race. Ryan is seeking his third individual state championship after winning the 3200 meter title last spring on the track.
Speaking of sub 15, Jonathan Leon has done it back to back races in his district meet with a 14:56 PR and a 14:59 runner-up finish at the regional meet. The Hagerty senior has had several notable wins this season including at the Cecil Field Summer Classic and flrunners.com Invitational and was the 3200 state runner-up last spring to Ryan.
Meanwhile, Riley Smith was viewed primarily has a middle distance specialist coming into this season with a 1:53 best at 800 meters and 4:09 best at 1600 meters having never broken 17 minutes for 5K prior to this season. He is running a bit faster than that now in cross country including his most recent breakthrough in his 14:57 PR victory at the 4A Region 1 meet against Ryan and Leon.
Smith was the Katie Caples Invitational champion and runner-up at the New World Fall Spectacular behind only Patrick Koon for some of his top performances to date prior to his regional race. His leg speed certainly comes into factor in any finishing kick with Leon and Ryan, viewed as more 3200 meter runner types on the track.
Individual Contenders: Tanner Simonds (Creekside), Caden Baker (George Jenkins), Alejandro Romagosa (Christopher Columbus)
Considering that we have 3 on the favorites, this contenders list might be considered more the next tier pack of runners in the field or the potential to chase down anyone from the big 3 that might falter on race day. Two are regional champions in 4A Region 4 champion Alejandro Romagosa of Christopher Columbus and 4A Region 2 champion Caden Baker of George Jenkins, while Simonds was the winner of the notorious district of death in 4A District 1 with a personal best time of 15:18 before having an off race at the regional meet.
Romagosa was the Spanish River Invitational champion in September with a 15:19 PR and ran an impressive time of 15:49 at Tropical Park in Miami to win the 4A Region 4 race. He finished 14th at the FSU Pre-State Invitational at the midway point of the season with a time of 15:40 and also ran 15:29 at Great American in North Carolina.
Caden Baker's fastest time of the season came at the North Port Invitational in 15:34 and was a 20th place finisher (15:53) at the FSU Pre-State Invitational. His best performance might have come in his regional victory of 16:01 on the much more difficult and slower Holloway Park last week to project him to run well in the 15 minute range at ARP.
Simonds is the third highest state meet returnee from last year (6th place) behind only defending champion Ryan and Leon. He has shown in several big races his potential including an 8th place finish of 15:31 at the FSU Pre-State Invitational and fifth place finish of 15:25 at New World Fall Spectacular before his district win against Ryan, who have been pack running albeit in a fast manner of 15:25 with his Nease teammates. He might have the best talent potential to crack into the top 3 at the state meet.