I'm going to do my best to get through as many of these as I can before Friday, starting with the elite races! Take a look at last year's predictions... they were pretty close. I don't take this task lightly so it takes me hours each race!
If anyone else wants to submit your predictions either in article form or just rankings form please do! If you do something more in-depth please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll post it as an article. If you just want to throw up some thing more casual, throw it on the forum to start some discussion! Thanks!
Boys Race of Champions
The Front Runners
The front of this race is looking like a three man race that will hopefully be another legendary battle for next year's collage! Everyone knows that going in Elliot Clemente of Belen Jesuit is going to be the favorite. He is the current Florida leader in cross country and has been pretty untouchable (despite the best efforts by Andres Arroyo) with performances of 15:26 and 15:27 the last two weeks at Spanish River and UF (after three false starts, mind you). Clemente is also the only returning Foot Locker finalist from Florida this year. He has been running with ease and determination and it's going to take a mighty performance to beat him. Last year he finished fourth in this race with a time of 15:09 and by all appearances he is substantially more fit this year than last. Could the course record go down for a third year in a row???
However, don't get so caught up into Clemente fever that you forget that the Belen Jesuit senior is NOT the top returner in this year's race. Max del Monte of Chamberlain is! Last year Clemente and del Monte rode the Clark/Pickering train to times of 15:09 for Clemente and 15:03 for del Monte! This year Coach Strack is taking a bit of a different strategy with Max... he is being very choosey about when he lets him go and when he holds him back. Strack did not run del Monte at Deja Vu for that reason. Last weekend at UF Max was perhaps underwhelming at 7th place and 16:11, but who knows what effect the false starts came into play or even if he was training through. In other words, you better believe that Max is coming out to do battle and will test Clemente!
Now for a name you probably don't know... Josh Brickell of Peachthree Ridge High School in Georgia. The rest of Brickell's team is racing up I-95 at Bale-n-Trail in Jacksonville, but much like Jimmy Clark last year... Brickell's coach wants to get him some competition. The folks in Georgia report that he is "the real deal" and a legitimate contender for earning a Foot Locker Nationals bid. Last year Brickell was 25th at Foot Locker South, beating studs like Tyler Cardillo, Phil Duncan, and Max del Monte himself! And he has only gotten better since... track season saw him hit PRs of 4:19 1600m and 9:16 3200m. This fall he has already put up performances of 15:21 and 15:30. It could be interesting!
Beyond that things get a little more shady, simply because a lot of the contenders you'd expect haven't really shown themselves yet this season. UF Mountain Dew overall is going to be our best indicator of what to expect this week. Comparing the UF course to other "fast courses" in the state like flrunners, Prestate, and Spanish River it typically runs about 20-30 seconds slower. So we can kind of base our time expections on that fact. Again keeping in mind the false starts may have added considerable leg fatigue to that--effecting some more than others. So with that in mind we should expect to see the training wheels off of a lot of guys this week and a lot of great times!
With Andres Arroyo headed to Great American and Quincy O'Connor hitting the books this weekend, the next top finisher at UF was Aaron Rojas of Estero. I would not expect him to contend with the top three, but I fully expect that he is going to push the pace for this secondary lead pack. Rojas came out of the gate well this year and should easily top the 15:49 he ran for 12th place at this meet last year. Expect to see him around 15:30 and change.
But the thing is Rojas has already lost once this year. Carlos Miranda of Palmetto Ridge may be little known outside of the Ft. Myers/Naples metro area, but that could well change after this weekend. Folks in the area say he's for real and he's got some speed to back it up... he ran 4:19 on the track last spring and outkicked Rojas in an amazingly tight finish at Ft. Myers Optimist two weeks ago. Miranda is undefeated so far this year in two meets.
Chris Godwin is another one to watch. The Buchholz senior was the state leader for the first two weeks of the season after a 15:52 time trial and a 15:48 win at Ridgeview. He was fifth last week at UF in 16:01 and will be right there in the thick of things this year.
Next up you have to think about Anderson Charles of John I. Leonard. He is the go-to guy for a surprisingly strong looking Leonard squad this year, recovering from the loss of its leader Ryan Pickering. Charles has stepped up to the plate nicely this year. He finished in third place (25 seconds behind Clemente) at Spanish River and then won a difficult Fleet Feet Invitational course last weekend in 16:35. I believe we will see him this week pushing the lower half of the 15:40s. Don't try to outkick him... 1:54 on the oval last spring. He finished in 23rd at this race last year at 16:00 and he is much stronger this fall.
Belen Jesuit's #2 Avery Lopez is a guy who has really stepped it up this season. He ran a 16:26 at this meet last year and peaked out at prestate with a 16:08. He's already blown by that number with a 15:49 second place finish at Spanish River (behind Clemente, ahead of Charles) two weeks ago and then a 16:12 for 8th place at UF last weekend.
There is really plenty of talent go go around here...
Daniel Salas and Ryan Gousse were solid last weekend at FSU and PRed at 15:45 and 15:36 last season.
Billy Anguish of Winter Park ran a blazing 4:15 on the track and a 15:36 at XC State last fall. He's been off to a pretty decent start with a win already on this course the first week of hte regular season at the Astronaut Invitational and a 9th place 16:13 at UF.
You have Peteri Licari of Hagerty who had a really off week at UF, but was looking sharp the prior weeks.
Danny Fernandez, Manny Garcia and Kenneth Castro have formed a nice little 1-2-3 punch to replace Armando del Valle's dominance. UF was not kind to them but all looked solid at Deja Vu and Spanish River.
Not sure what's been up with rock star Bert Irigoyen of Ransom Everglades so far this year, but he's been racing into shape last year and broke 16 at this meet last fall and is the defending 2A State XC Champion (15:29) and the 2A 1600 Champion as well (4:20). Will he be back to norm this weekend???
Finally, don't forget about two more sleeping giants... Ryan Schnulle of Charlotte and Nicholas Palmero of North Broward Prep. Both have been really out of sorts this year so far. Schnulle may or may not opt to race with his team in the Invitational division, but last year he finished in 7th place at this meet in 15:44... before breaking loose with a 15:21 at Prestate two weeks later. Schnulle was a huge part of the state record 4x800 by Charlotte last spring and has 1:52 800 and 4:15 1600 speed. Will he awaken? And then there is Palmero who normally doesn't get much play... last year he PRed at this race with a 15:44 eighth place finish. This year he hasn't seen the under side of 17 minutes just yet, but he cut almost a minute week-over-week at flrunners last year so he could break out again on this course.
Let's not even kid... this is Belen Jesuit's race to win or lose. They have been untouchable this season, beatin gall of their competition handily. They are nationally ranked right now and are the defending champions at this meet. No boys team has EVER successfully defended their flrunners.com Invitational victory. But looks to change this year.
If any team has a legitimate shot at taking down the mighty Wolverines of Belen Jesuit, it is Miami Christopher Columbus. They have really done a nice job reloading this year and Fleitas has developed some good depth to go along with his 1-2-3 punch. However, as good as their 16:15 team average at Spanish River was (let's throw out the UF performance)... the fact is that Belen Jesuit beat them at every single position except three-man and averaged over 10 seconds better (helped in no small degree by Clemente). But the cross-town rivals will likely be head and shoulders out in front this weekend and it could end up being a good match up if Belen Jesuit falters in any top five position or Columbus substantially steps up.
Battling for third place it really is kind of wide open. I would expect to see John I. Leonard in that spot locking horns with Trinity Prep. Going into the season we all thought it woudl be Estero, but they've really struggled to put it together outside of Rojas this fall... but you never know, they have the talent for sure. Norcross, Georgia is likely to stake a claim at a top five position... could they knock off Leonard or TP? They are currently the #9 ranked team in Georgia, so it's possible.
Others to watch: Ransom Everglades, Spruce Creek, Sarasota, Winter Park, PK Yonge, Woodstock GA, and Vero Beach.
Girls Race of Champions
The Front Runners
Odds on favorite right now is Shelby Davidson of Cocoa Beach. She is ranked third in the state with an 18:12 last weekend at the University of Florida. While the ladies there did not have the false starts that the guys did, they did have to deal with over 400 girls in the race and again it runs about 20-30 seconds slower than a fast course like Chain of Lakes Park. Davidson had company for a couple of miles, but then was solo out front. There is possibility that she'll find herself in a similar situation this week if a few others do not regain their form. Shelby qualified for Foot Locker Nationals last year--only returning Florida girl to do so--and I would expect to see her improve upon the 17:47 she ran at htis meet last year... 17:30s is quite realistic with the right conditions.
Two girls returning beat Shelby in this race last year... Bridget Blake of Dr. Phillips and Kacy Smith of Estero. Blake gave me quite a surprise last season when she was barely on my top ten radar and then split up the Fluehr twins for a second place 17:45 showing. She went on to win the 4A XC State Championship, as well as two more in the track season. She made her XC debput last week with a 5th place 18:57 at UF... so she should be back in top five contention this week, but can she bounce back enough to challenge Davidson? Seems like a long shot... but I under-rated her last year! Smith, meanwhile, went into the year on top of the world but has tripped up a bit thus far. After holding off a charging Olivia Ortiz at the Deja Vu Classic, Smith has had two consecutive weeks where she's fallen off the pace of the leaders and finished north of 19 minutes. Last week at UF, she fell off her good friend Davidson's pace after the mile mark and finished in 7th place 19:14. But... we all know she's got it in her. She owned Davidson in every race except Foot Locker South last season, ran a 17:47 here last year, posed a 4:52 1600 and 10:32 3200 in track... I mean she's a beast. It's just if she can shake off whatever has been ailing her and she'll be right back in this thing. Maybe she needs more caffeine?
Two things to note... Nicole Carpio also defeated Davidson and Smith at last year's meet (4th place, 17:46) and her team is back this year. However, Carpio has not raced this season, had a sparse track season, and is not on the roster this weekend. It's unfortunate and we wish the senior a quick recovery from her nagging injury. Also, earlier on the forum we announced that Meghan Lockett from Virginia was going to come down and that she would be a contender. That's still the case... but her school did not get clearance to compete so she'll be racing in Friday's college race.
Bryce Seymour of Circle Christian has been getting better and better every week. She had no issues winning the DeLand Invitational last weekend by over 40 seconds with an 18:26. I'm not sure what she did over the summer, but she's looking like a whole new woman... already pacing far better than her 18:56 season best at Prestate last year (19:05 at flrunners) and making her track PRs (11:30 3200, 5:22 1600, 2:34 800) look way rear-view mirror. She could surprise some people this weekend.
Olivia Ortiz of Lakewood Ranch has looked fantastic so far this year. We gave her Warrior of the Week status after she came oh-so-close to kicking down Smith at Deja Vu. She followed that up with an 18:37 win at Ft. Myers Optimist and a second place finish at UF last weekend in 18:28 (16 seconds behind Davidson). Could this be Olivia's turn to break into the 17 minute club?? She ran 18:27 here last year for 9th place.
Another one to look out for is Sarah Candiano of Evangelical Christian. Though she did race on the high school level as an eighth grader, I think the freshman is still learning to race. She just plain out wasn't this fast last year. She PRed at the 1A State Meet with a 19:05 for 12th place, but the she had a stellar track season (2:26, 5:12, 11:30). She really woke a lot of people up by winning 9-11 Invitational by a huge margin, upsetting Smith and finishing second to Ortiz at Ft.Myers Optimist (18:54) and then finishing an impressive fourth at UF last weekend (18:55).
Katy G Solis and Bethany Jenkins have been looking really strong for Estero.... as have Devin McDermott and Kristin Zarrella of Lakewood Ranch. I expect to see all four in the 18s and really match up really tightly through three in the team battle.
Emily Edwards and Rachel Petrik of Ft. Myers are going to let their team go Invitational and face off in the ROC. Both looked great at this meet last year (Edwards 11th 18:36 and Petrik 17th 18:54); however, have struggled a bit this season. Can they shake off the cob webs and be back on their game?
Katelyn Greenleaf of Northside Christian was 12th in 18:36 here last year, but hasn't shown her true form just yet. She finished in a solid 8th place last weekend at UF in 19:21 and could easily hit last year's figure if she's having a good day.
Joanna McCoy, a transfer to Gulliver this fall, is undefeated so far her senior season. She won at Spanish River (19:02) and then again less than a week later at Ferguson Falcon (19:07). She won both of those meets by huge amounts... almost a minute each. Coming off of a great track season (5:07, 11:10), she has not shown her true form yet and is ready to get her name mentioned in the same breathe as the big dawgs. I think if anyone really breaks out at this meet it is her. She could be a dark horse for top five for sure.
Also look out for Ashley Heitling of Mount Dora HS, 6th last week at UF in 19:11, to race strong and finish top ten. Amy Ankli of Hagerty I think will also make her first trip into the 18 minute club this wekend.
Katherine Yost of Norcross is back again with her squad this year and coming off of an 18:44 at the Gwinnett County Championship. As much as flrunners is a fast course, that River Green course in Duluth is awfully fast... she ran an 18:46 there last year (which proved to be a season best) and then came back to run an 18th place 18:55 at flrunners last year. So using that as an litmus test, look for her in the vacinity of 18:53 this year.
Our lone team from Tennessee, Siegel HS is bringing along a talented freshman in Nicole Gardner. She has put up three 19-Teens performances so far this year on relatively slower Tennessee courses. So expect to see her with a fresh new 18:45ish PR this week.
I don't care what the virtual meet says.... just like last year it's going to be a two-way battle between Lakewood Ranch and Estero. At least year's meet Lakewood Ranch edged them out by ONE point 102-103. Last year I correctly called Lakewood Ranch in my predictions article; however, I wrongly said it would be decided on the 4-5 runners. Last year Estero's 4-5 came out on top, but their 2-3 runners did not. So let me reverse myself... it will be decided on the 2-3 runners and Estero will pull out the narrowest victory. Both teams have struggled a bit with depth so far this year with a great 1-2-3, but a 4-5 that are struggling to get their feet under them in the early season. Both return the same top five that we saw in the battle last year. Both are so evenly matched it's ridiculous! Last week at UF, both had a near dead-even 20:00 team average... but Estero pulled off the win 116-124. They pulled off that win with--yep--their #2 and #3 runners (also with big help of #4). So there could easily be shift... but I think Kacy Smith will be back up front (probably a place or two from Ortiz) and really this is going to be decided in the middle. Virtual meet calls Lakewood Ranch fourth... but I say that's bogus. Those two will be at it again.
Woodstock GA is currently ranked #6 in that state. So they definitely are looking for the upset. If they somehow pulled it off, they would be the first non-Florida team to win the girls title at the flrunners.com Invitational. Stop those invaders, girls! Just kidding.. good luck to them. They lack a really strong front-runner , but have a lot of strength in numbers. They've been helped by freshman Alexanra Melehan up fron (19:22) and sophomore Morgan O'Toole (19:23). Three and four are also solid, but they may have trouble at the fifth position. I dunno... the virtual meet puts them in second place within striking distance of Estero... I just think that stat is a little skewed right now by a fast Warpath Invitational course last weekend. I think they finish more like fifth.
The real dark horse here is John A. Ferguson. They are no longer a secret after successive impressive performance the past several weeks, but they just keep getting better, stronger, deeper in my eyes. Their 1-5 split right now is an impressive 40 seconds and that could be HUGE in this meet. With a loaded field such as this it's going to be a points game.... and frankly, Ferguson could put SEVEN runners way under any other team's five. That's going to be where we see a possible huge upset. Their top two are looking at being around 19-flat.... the scoring should be complete for the Falcons by 19:59. That's going to be hard to beat. I'm betting on a resurgance of Lakewood Ranch and Estero, looking closer to last year than we've seen this fall... if that doesn't happen though Ferguson takes home the big trophy.
Others to look out for: Hagerty has looked strong all year and 6th at UF; Dr. Phillips though without Dana Demsky this season is bouncing back with Bridget Blake's return just trying to fill void left in depth pool; Spruce Creek has been relatively untested by Florida competition this year, let's see what they're made of.
Freshman Kurt Convey of Coral Reef goes in the favorite with a 16:24 at Spanish River. I expect a big challenge from Kenneth Pineiro of Deland. He has looked like an up and comer to me and is coming off of a solid track season.
Any number of guys from Ft. Myers could also contend: Brendan Shearman, Ace Brown, or Tyler Bennett.
Taylor Hickey of Rockledge looks like he's ready to crank out a 16:35 ish performance. With Nick French of Spanish River also running strong, just a place behind Hickey at Fleet Feet last week.
Brendan Schmick of Cypress Creek is kind of sick of letting his little sister get all the headlines, so the junior been stepping it up this fall.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two wildcards...
Logan Kruse of Dr. Phillips and Ryan Schnulle of Charlotte. Schnulle has been running... okay let's say it... really poorly for his standards. I'm not sure if there's any rationale or not, haven't talked to him or Coach George. He could run in the ROC individually... or they could choose to keep him with the team in the Invitational because of those struggles. But if he's in this race, he is certainly a threat to win even if he's well off of last year's pace. Another big if is Kruse... he has yet to race this season as he's been battling an injury he suffered in summer training. However, in a feature article earlier this fall, he indicated he was going to try to come back for flrunners. He is on the roster... that doesn't mean he'll run for sure though. If he does come back... do they move him up to the ROC? His credentials certainly support that decision (15:17 5K last fall, 4:15 1600, 9:32 3200)... in fact if he was back in running form he may even contend. Or do they keep the training wheels on for the first time out and leave him in this Invitational? If he's running this race... like Schnulle, even if we see just a shadow of last year's form he's in contention here.
Ft. Myers was set to be a Race of Champions team this year, but they don't feel they're quite ready for that level of competition just yet. But they're certainly ready for this one. Both this year's virtual meet and using last year's based on returners call Ft. Myers a big time favorite here. I think they're running solid and expect them to be hard for anyone to beat.
If anyone can touch them it will likely be John A. Ferguson. Though their girls are putting them a bit to shame right now (for the first time ever)... they are still racing pretty solid. Like the girls, they're built on pack power with a 43 second 1-5 split. Will it be enough to pull an upset?
Also keep you eyes on Cocoa Beach, Circle Christian, Charlotte, and Miami Killian.
Sorry I didn't have time to write this one up... it's 4AM and I have to get to Titusville tomorrow! Sorry... will try to fill more in on Thursday night.
Kelly Fahey (Trinity Prep) 19:28
Alex Eaton (St. Petersburg) soph 19:03
Charlotte Stephens (Winter Park) soph 19:37
Kelly Hensley (Lincoln Park) 20:23
Sarah Day (West Shore) 21:02
Erin Waterman (St. Petersburg) 20:42
Claire Castillo (Titusville) soph 20:27
Kaley Schmick (Cypress Creek) frosh 19:45
Mallory White 20:04
Lauren Archer 20:08
Meghan Dewitt 20:10
Denae Chapman (Circle) 20:02