JACKSONVILLE - With a personal best time and the fifth best time in Florida this season, St. Johns Country Day School senior cross country runner Matthew Stratton made it very clear that his …
JACKSONVILLE - With a personal best time and the fifth best time in Florida this season, St. Johns Country Day School senior cross country runner Matthew Stratton made it very clear that his intentions for next week are to be aggressive.
Stratton, who has a second and third place finish at the Class 1A championships in the past two seasons, blasted the Region 1-1A course at the New World Golf course at Cecil Field with a 15 minute, five second runaway win Friday morning in cold, blustery race conditions.
“I went out in 4:47 which was about eight seconds faster than I had planned, but the weather was near perfect; cold, no humidity with just a mist of rain,” said Stratton, who ranks fifth in Florida for 5K times in cross country behind Nease High’s Rheinhardt Harrison’s 14:45, run on the same course Stratton ripped his 15:05. “I figured while I was up front like that with noone around, I would let it go.”
In the region 1-4A girls championship race, run Saturday morning in a downpour at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Oakleaf High junior Sierra Barrera finished 17th overall in 20:18.70 to finish as seventh individual qualifier. Top eight teams advance with three runners not on top eight teams given individual invites. Barrera finished 20th at last year’s region race in 20:28.86 and missed her state ticket by one spot.
On Saturday, Olympia High freshman Emily Knople won in 19:07.70 with Buchholz taking the team title.
At the Region 1-1A race on Friday, Stratton passed the halfway point with a nearly 50 yard lead on the chase group which included Tallahassee Maclay’s Clayton Knox and Pensacola Catholic’s Jonathan Tutton whom Stratton went shoulder to shoulder with last year in the same region race. Note: In 2020, Stratton won the region race in 15:53 with Knox fifth at 16:57 and Tutton fourth at 16:42.90.
“I knew he (Knox) was there and Pensacola had a runner we knew about, so when I got a lead, I was going to keep it,” said Stratton. “It’s a whole new race from last year with all of us improving with the year of training. I was taking chances.”
After the halfway split solidified Stratton’s confidence to win the race, he hit the mile to go mark near 13:30 and realized that his 15:10 on the same course a week ago was a possibility to improve.
“I wanted to go out my senior with a 14 minute time in one of my races,” said Stratton. “I hit two miles at 13:30, did some quick calculations and started to pick up my pace. The crowd in the final finish 800 meters really helps.”
Smashing through the finish line, Stratton knew he had gotten close, but was aware that he had left some fuel in the gas tank for next week’s state championship attempt.
“The target has always been next week,” said Stratton. “My dad (Greg Stratton, coach at SJCDS) gives me a lot of choice to race from the heart.”
With Stratton the new champion, sophomore teammate Graham Myers may have put his name in the hat as the next great runner out of Spartan land with a strong 16:18.80 fourth place finish behind Tutton and Knox, at 16:02.60 and 16:13.80.
“I wanted to get into that 16 minute range,” said Myers. “I was kind of caught in a spot with space in front of me and space behind me.”
With his two top runners in the top five, Greg Stratton breathed a moment of relief as his Spartans took third in the team chase behind Pensacola Christian at 43 points and Maclay at 116 points. St. Johns totaled 143 with Providence 153 and Bishop Snyder at 157.
St. Johns got personal best times from track star Stanley Cowherd at 30th in 18:22.40, sophomore Richard Nichols 50th at 19:15.10 and a 61st place from senior Adan Hererra at 19:40.10 to get the entire team to the state championship race.
Around the state, region 3-1A was won by Indian Rocks Christian senior Mateo Luna in 15:48.30, region 2-1A was won by Oak Hall junior Caden Montini in 16:56.20 and region 4-1A was won by South Florida HEAT sophomore Hunter Morgan in 16:51.13.
For the girls team, a decade of state meet berths fell three points shy of the top eight places for teams to advances with the Lady Spartans finished ninth behind St. Joseph Academy.
“I think all the girls were sick at some point durin g the week,” said Stratton. “They all ran great though despite that, but the field was just a little faster this year.”
Top finisher was RaeAnne Tutton, a sophomore at Pensacola Christian and sister to second place boys finisher Jonathan Tutton, who won over her eighth grade sister 18:53.80 to 18:53.90 over University Christian senior Lace Watford, in at 19:04.30.
For St. Johns, seventh grader Essie Melicharek garnered top honors for the Lady Spartans with a 21:25 split for 25th place with Rebecca Stratton, freshman sister to Matthew Stratton and the Spartans top finisher through most of the season, 40th at 22:42.70.
Sarah Robinson was third finisher for St. Johns at 44th in 22:55.90 with Sofia Conde 49th in 23:22.10.
The second race in Jacksonville, the Region 1-2A race, won dramatically by a 1-7 finish by Bolles, featured the Keystone Heights High boys team led by sophomore Tyler Griffin. Griffin finishe his best season with a 48th finish in 18:27.80.
“I feel good that our team with three seventh graders at least got here to regions,” said Griffin. “It’s just me, a freshman (Ayden Graff) and three seventh graders so we can get better as a team ian the next few years.”
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