Stratton gets his first gold

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 11/17/21

TALLAHASSEE - After a third and a second place finish and a slew of top five finishes this year against the best of Class 3A and 4A, St. Johns Country Day School senior cross country ace Matthew …

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Stratton gets his first gold


TALLAHASSEE - After a third and a second place finish and a slew of top five finishes this year against the best of Class 3A and 4A, St. Johns Country Day School senior cross country ace Matthew Stratton finally got his gold with a dominating performance at the Class 1A championship race on Saturday in Tallahassee.

“Finally is what we both said after I met up with him at the finish line,” said Greg Stratton, coach at St. Johns and Matthew’s dad. “He has been thinking about this day for more than just last year, but for all those year we just missed.”

Stratton, who recently signed to run next fall at the University of Florida, noted that his post season runs; a district title and a region title; both in dominating fashion with low 15 minute-plus finish times, came at a peak time when his mind has been most relaxed.

“I went out there and my time at the mile was 4:41 and, in past years, I may have panicked, but today, I just went with it as the weather was perfect and I was feeling really great,” said Stratton, who eventually cruised alone into the downhill finish area at the Appalachee Region Park finish area with a time of 15 minutes, 40.2 seconds to win by nearly 13 seconds over runnerup Jackson Dejesus of Circle Christian Academy and third place finisher Tristan McWilliam of Out-of-Door who came in as the third runner under 16 minutes. “I look behind me on the finish straightaway and saw I had the race and that is when I started to get emotional about finally winning this race.”

After his opening mile salvo, Stratton kept his foot on the gas and just stretched the lead little by little.

“I figured now they have to come get me and I know I have a strong finishing kick,” said Stratton. “The past two years, I’ve waited to kick the final mile and fell short, but this time I wanted to make sure.”

St. Johns boys team had a second great finish in sophomore Graham Myers, who was 11th in 16:38.0, with the team finishing 15th in team points in the 31 team field.

In Class 3A, Ridgeview High’s James Snipes, a senior, ended a sterling second year of cross country, that he admitted was only to get in shape for basketball last year, to take the top area finish with a 13th place finish just 19 seconds from a top five place in one of the tightest finish lines of the day.

Snipes took his usual first mile at hard pace then hung tough against some of the best runners in Florida to finish in 16:19.1 with the winner; Patrick Koon of Leon, at 15:23.8. The top five finishers were under 16; the top 54 under 17 minutes in an astounding race of inches.

Also in Class 3A, the Fleming Island High boys team took eighth in team points led by another great finish from senior Alex Bendig at 16:29.2 for 21st place with sophomore teammate John Keester IV just a hair behind at 16:33.7 for 24th. Fleming Island briefly sat in second place in team points as the top two runners of the field starting to filter in behind them, but number three Danny Sakowski finished at 17:00.8 as the front loaded field started to emerge.

Belen Jesuit Prep won the team title with 42 points with Fort Myers second at 132 and Sunlake third at 151. Locally, Ocala Vanguard and Ponte Vedra, whom Fleming Island beat last week for the region 1-3A title, were ahead of Fleming Island at sixth for Vanguard with 244, seventh with Ponte Vedra at 308 and Fleming Island eighth with 312 in a race of attrition for the pack positions at the finish. Leon was ninth despite Koon’s first place individual finish.

The only other non-south Florida team was Matanzas as 32nd.

In the girls Class 3A race, Fleming Island finished 13th with Ponte Vedra winning with the Golden Eagles led by sophomore Allie Knotts’ 49th place finish in 20:13.7. Behind Knotts were teammates Katelyn Thomposon, a junior, in 63rd at 20:31.4, and freshman Ava Hendrix at 68th in 20:35.6.

Top runner was sizzling fast repeat champion Caroline Wells of Winter Springs in 16:56.6. Wells is headed to run next fall at Stanford University and won by more than a minute over Ashley Fitzgerald of American Heritage at 18:13.2.

Top area finisher was Ponte Vedra freshman Sofia Bushkell, the region 1-3A champion, in fifth at 18:34.9. Ocala Vanguard freshman Pippa Worden was fourth as two sophomores and two freshman were in the top five behind Wells. St. Augustine senior Reilly Barber finished 11th to finish a career that spanned four years and visited Clay County races numerous times. Ponte Vedra senior Ellie Moritz, niece for former Fleming Island girls coach and Clay High track state champion Karen Moritz, was 15th in 19:17.1.

In Class 4A, Nease High senior Rheinhardt Harrison won his fourth state title with at 15:03.6 effort. Harrison is slated to run at the storied University of Oregon program next year after setting numerous Florida and USA high school records in both cross country and track. Viera won the boys title with a 104-104 tie with Creekside for the top five finishers and the win going to the sixth runner finish; 80 for Viera, 97th for Creekside, in a unique cross country overtime type finish. Bartram Trail was third.

Also from the area in Class 4A, Chiles as sixth, Nease seventh and Buchholz eight.

For the girls Class 4A, Buchholz won their second state title in school history with lead runner Katie Drummong getting fifth overall, but the Lady Bobcats putting three runners in the top 20 with runner Newsome’s third runner at 26th. Lakewood Ranch was third. Penelope Sosa, senior at Miami Coral Park, won the individual title in a sprint away from Amber Schulz of Timber Creek to win in 18:12.4. Schulz was 18:27.3.

In Class 1A, Cambridge Christian won the girls title over Circle Christian and Oak Hall. Cambridge had the top three finishers of the race with the fourth in at sixth place to score an astounding 26 points.

In Class 1A boys, Indian Rocks Christian was top team with 106 points ahead of Circle Christian and Oak Hall.

In Class 2A, Bolles pulled the double title phenomenon with the boys and girls both winning team trophies; boys over Satellite 67-75 with Berkeley Prep third at 76, girls over St. Brendan 56-161 with junior Jillian Candelino posting a 17:53.2 individual title. In the boys 2A race, Trinity Prep’s Nicholas Carter held off Bolles’ junior Aidan Ryan, 15:24.2 to 15:35.1, for the individual title.


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