BARTRAM TRAIL - Fleming Island High cross country runner Graham Myers, a top 10 finisher in Class 1A last year in cross country and track (second in 3200) for St. Johns Country Day School, has been …
BARTRAM TRAIL - Fleming Island High cross country runner Graham Myers, a top 10 finisher in Class 1A last year in cross country and track (second in 3200) for St. Johns Country Day School, has been on fire as a team frontrunner now that he is at Fleming Island High School with two sub-16 minute finishes under his belt.
“The Fleming Island team is pretty strong from good distance runs all summer,” said Myers, who was Class 1A champion Matthew Strattons shadow for cross country last year and a runnerup to Stratton in the track 3200 state championship race. “John (Keester) and Danny (Sakowski) are getting closer to the front each race with the rest of the team strong enough to make our team points good.”
On Saturday, with a 3.1 mile shadow in West Florida Tech High’s senior Luis Gutierrez, himself a 16 minute finisher, a district champion and a 25th place finisher in Class 2A last year, Myers, despite a tumble on one of the infamous hay bales placed on the course at Bartram Trail’s Bales N Trails cross country course, out-battled Gutierrez with a 16:03.30 split to Gutierrerz’ 16:15.50.
“I barely clipped with my ankle,” said Myers, a junior. “I didn’t lose a spot because of a somersault I did to pop back up.”
Gutierrez, who broke out as a sophomore runner with a 16:14 best run then had injuries the following year before running in the Class 2A championship race.
“He was just in front of me and rolled and I had to jump over him, but he got right back up and surge back to his spot up front,” said Gutierrez, who finished in the state race despite battling injuries into his junior season.
For Whiteside and West Florida, in only their second race of the season, Gutierrez has been rebounding from an injury prior to his junior year.
“The state race was not his best race,” said West Florida coach Everett Whiteside, a former University of Alabama standout. “I liked Luis up with the Fleming Island kid. The Fleming Island kid looked very relaxed up front. On paper, we were shooting for top five figuring Creekside would be training through the race.”
From the outset, Myers and Gutierrez pulled quickly away from the field with a 10 yard lead after the first hay bale near the half mile mark after the start.
From there the duo extended a bit through the middle of the race only to have a threesome that included Fleming Island’s John Keester IV in tow looking to close the gap.
Keester, a top returner for Fleming Island coaches Chris Otero and Dave Allen, slowly reeled in the top two, but eventually finished fourth behind Fort Walton Beach’s Grant Chastain, a junior, who clipped Keester for third, 16:17.80 to 16:21.40.
With the Golden Eagles, eighth last year in Class 3A and ranked second presently, securing two finishers in the top five and looking for number three Danny Sakowski to up the team total, Creekside, the eventual team champions and second in Class 4A last year, landed three runners at 8-9-10 with Sakowski in at 11.
From there, number four for Fleming Island, sophomore Jacob Campbell finished two slots behind Creekside’s Hudson Finnochio’ 12th place finish to keep the team scores even closer.
Creekside would sneak in at 20th with Fleming Island freshman Andrew Boyer in at 21st to give the Knights the 45-50 team title.
“The course is sloppy but pretty fast otherwise with the hay bales not too high,” said Myers. “We go to Cartersville, Georgia this week and that’s a pretty fast course.”
Ridgeview, with top finisher Julio Rodriguez taking 25th in 17:40.70 to improve his top times, finished ninth with 258 points. Middleburg had Kole Mussante at 65th in 19:02.60.
Orange Park had senior Christian Mayfield in at 113th in 20:25.
For the girls race, which did not include the Fleming Island High girls team that took second at last week’s Bobcat Classic in Gainesville, defending 2A champion Bolles, led by senior and individual 2A champion Jillian Candelino’s outstanding 17:45 split, put all five of their runners in the top 12 spots for a convincing 28-60 win over Ponte Vedra with Creekside third.
Middleburg’s Molly Burt was top area finisher at 55th in 23:01.40.
Orange Park’s Charlotte Wilson was 71st in 23:54.20 with Ridgeview’s Ashley Yu at 91st in 24:57.90.
At Daytona Beach’s Embry Riddle Invitation, St. Johns Country Day School boys team finsihed third with junior Richard Nichols fifth overall in 19:27.22 while, in the girls race, St. Johns was second with sophomore Rebecca Stratton winning overall in 22:06.40 with three Spartans; Sofia Conde, Matilda Morris and Sarah Robinson in at 8-9-10 and senior Kaitlyn Phillips at 12th in 27:38.40.