The Hawks of Spruce Creek High School (FL 4A #6) were the lone Florida representative this past weekend at the Volunteer Cross Country Invite in Knoxville, TN. The plan by Creek’s head coach Stephon Gallon was for the team to open the 2011 season on a course that was a challenge and potentially cooler conditions. For Coach Paul Supik of Milton HS Georgia (GA 5A #5), the original plan was to run their third meet of the year in Gettysburg, PA, but was changed at the last minute due to flooding conditions in the central Pennsylvania community. By design or fate both outsiders found their large contingents on charter busses heading to Knoxville, TN to compete with some of Tennessee’s finest at Victor Ashe Park under near perfect conditions for distance runners. The temperature when the bell went off was a perfect 63 degrees, which was far cooler than the temperatures at home in Port Orange, FL.
At the mile mark on this 2 loop course it was Milton runner Annie Kelly (PR 18:25) leading the pack as they attacked the 300 meter rise through the outlying tree lines, followed by Allison Cheeseman, Footlocker Nationals qualifier(11th South Region, 19:23.00) of Brentwood Academy, TN. The leaders were joined by Hannah Feiten (Hardin Valley, TN), Ashley Welborn( Knoxville Catholic, TN), and Kaitlyn Kelly (Spruce Creek, FL). The course, which will host the SEC Cross Country Championship later this fall is designed to really challenge a runners ability to overcome several terrain changes, and surfaces. The long hill that starts in the trees at the 700 meter mark is approximately 300 meters long, and is followed by another winding hill that sneaks up on you after a brief flatland, and is designed to throw off your tempo. Organizer Marty Sonnenfelt told me prior to the race that the problem most new comers have when running here is that they don’t run smart races. It’s not about who leads at the mile or two mile, but the athlete that can stick to the plan that will finish on top.
As they came through the two mile Cheesman began to use her experience to overcome Kelly, and as they hit the top of the rise with 900 meters to go it was Cheesman who broke away to take individual honors in 19:46.35, followed by Kelly in 19:50.71 and Hanah Feiten of Harden Valley 20:04.03. Once the individual honors were settled it became a battle of depth, experience and heart as Milton, Knoxville Catholic and Spruce Creek traded punches, with all three teams placing their top 5 inside the top 30 runners. In the end Milton took top honors with an average time of 21:07.98 (67 pts), followed by Knoxville Catholic’s 21:17.22 (73 pts) and Spruce Creek’s 21:27.42 average and (83 pts).
Experience and depth are great things, and family rivalries must add to the mix because the Templeton brothers of Hardin Valley, TN attacked every aspect of the course like pit bulls on fresh meat. For Will and younger brother Aaron the stats are more than just average. Senior Will is the reigning Tennessee state champion with a PR of 15:42, and sophomore Aaron has his own championship title of Footlocker Southern Regional Champion with a PR of 16:01.00. From the moment that the gun went off the brothers began their attack, and as I stood at the top of the hill I watched as they surged up the inclines as though none existed. While older brother Will began breaking away from the field at the mile mark, younger brother Aaron was joined by Bearden HS teammates Bryan Fitzsimmons( 16:07.70 PR) and Skyler Winchester(16:28.67 PR).
As the runners hit the second loop, and with 900 meters to go I worried that Will might seriously catch the pace rider on the bike as they hit the crest of the long rise along the back side of the course. As he surged once again to further distance himself from the rest of the pack, the battle was on between younger brother Will and Bryan Fitzsimmons as they went stride for stride past me. At the finish line it was Will Templeton winning with a time of 16:11.38, followed by brother Aaron in 16:34.63 and the two Bearden runners of Fitzsimmons in 16:35.90, and Skyler Winchester 16:52.19 narrowly holding off Lachlan Dickie of Knoxville West 16:52.53. Nathan Riech of Milton HS, GA finished 6th in 16:58.60 and Will Sallade of Farragut HS rounded out the runners under the 17 minute barrier 16:59.66. Spruce Creek, who ran without 3 of their top 6 runners were led by Kyler Kathman in 17:11.44, and Andrew Carpenter 17:24.85. In the end it was Bearden HS edging out the travelers from Milton GA by a mere 2 points, 76-78, with third place team Harden Valley Academy finishing with 98.
Girls Junior Varsity
Spruce Creek Sophomore Megan Zimmer will be the first to tell you that she is a tennis player, but after this weekend maybe she will consider herself a two sport athlete. Zimmer led Spruce Creek’s youth movement as she won the individual title with a time of 22:31.63, not a bad time considering this was her first cross country race ever. Zimmer ran with the lead pack of red jerseys from Milton HS, GA until she hit her stride during the second loop and began breaking away from the Georgia contingent that placed 5 of their girls in the top 8. In the end it was Milton’s girls beating Spruce Creek 24-60, followed by Farragut HS with 75.
Boys Junior Varsity
Did I mention that the team from Milton GA was deep? The Milton team easily took the boys junior varsity title as they scored a perfect 15! Led by Jammer Howell in 18:31.71, followed by Isaac Austin 18:43.32, Tom Jurgens 18:45.82, Andy Holben 18:58.66 and Brent Neal 18:58.89 all finishing under the 19 minute barrier. James Armor, Kevin Keyes, Austin Hodgins, and Skyler Reese of Spruce Creek led their team to a respectable finish of 2nd place.