GREEN COVE SPRINGS - St. Johns Country Day School cross country coach Greg Stratton may have a little more insight on his team than some coaches and when he challenged daughter Rebecca to do …
“She has been getting more and more consistent in her runs and with the last two races, getting closer to that 20-minute mark,” said Stratton, who also is dad to two-time state champion Matthew Stratton; 3200 on track and Class 1A cross country two years ago and now at the University of Florida. “I told her to do something special today.”
That “special” for the daughter, Rebecca, a junior, was to take control of the triple lap course at the Fairgrounds to pull away decisively and take the victory in a scant under 20 minutes; 19 minutes, 54 seconds, with plenty of room ahead of runner-up Olivia Griffin, from Keystone Heights, another not-so-surprising rising run star (big brother Tyler Griffin a senior) in the county who was in at 20:33 with a battle with Providence’s Emma Akhundjanov at 20:34.
The top five finished with a double Middleburg finish from Elizabeth Brown and Kaila Ornelas who came in for fourth and fifth ahead of Clay’s latest surprise power runner in soccer ace Erika Martinez. Martinez was the area’s top finisher last week at the Bob Hans Memorial race at Ridgeview and has steadily improved in her tactics under coach Stefanie Bergman-Cirillo.
“She came to us to improve her stamina for soccer and has been a great asset,” said Bergman-Cirillo, who was without ace runner Kaygen Williamson for the Clay County race as area athletes in many sports were at ACT testing. “She keeps getting more tactical and learning the 3.1 miles race, she will be a force. She’s very tough.”
Stratton, who cruised the first lap of the race in a pack with Akhundjanov and Griffin, made her break after passing the fairgrounds arenas and the finish line turn, broke away on lap two and opened up an insurmountable lead.
“When I made a move after I passed my dad at the first lap, I got some space then turned around and saw that I was all alone,” said Stratton. “I kind of freaked out a bit, but then settled in in my head and told myself to just run strong and not worry about the other runners. It was a weird feeling to be upfront and be in a position for the win. My first time for a win and my first time under 20 minutes.”
Stratton did comment that she called her brother and got a “Way to go” from the sibling.
“I’m always Matthew Stratton’s sister that runs, now, maybe I put my name out there,” said Stratton.
In the girl's race, St. Johns Classical had a five-athlete team led by Savanna Slonaker who was 61st in 27:36.
In the boy's race, Providence opened with a five-man front through the first lap then had a breakaway with Walker White eventually running a quick 16:41 split to beat Menendez’s Spencer Lawrence by 11 seconds with Providence teammate Harrison Kozlowski third in 16:55.
The top area finisher for a second week in a row was Grant Keppel of Oakleaf who finished sixth at 17:20 with St. Johns Country Day School senior Richard Nichols 11th at 17:41.
The event was a first-time event at the Fairgrounds under the direction of Clay County Tourism Council member Kimberly Morgan, who has brought national elite level cycling to Clay County, world elite level Pro Motorized Surfing and state level cross country cycling to the county, commented that the event is another corroboration with Airstream Ventures to bring world-class endurance events to Clay County.
“This was our first try and bringing cross country running to Clay County and we wanted to make the course fan-friendly, fast for the runners and offer a good venue for more races,” said Morgan. “Though it is pretty flat here with just the parking area undulations, the Clay County Tourism Council is always on the look for venues to stage this kind of event. From what I know about cross country, the times were fast, the fans had easy access to watch their runners in action for most of the race and the results were fast and available after the race. We will evaluate how we did and make improvements.”
The day also featured a junior high level 3K (1.7 miles) race with just one full lap that was dominated by the No Excuses Run Club from St. Johns County featured nearly 30 runners from the area junior high schools; won by Dominic Johnson of No Excuses in 9:56 by a minute over Jack Kline of Cornerstone Classical Academy. Oakleaf Junior High’s Julian Hodgerson was the top area finisher in 28th at 11:57.
For the girl's 3K race, No Excuses dominated with a 1-2-3 finish led by Sydney Johnson in 10:24. Oakleaf Junior High’s Aniya Barkdale was top area finisher in 21st in 13:16.
A 1K race was won by Suwannee Speed’s Daniel Gunter in 4:07 with Keystone Heights Junior High’s Ella Reddish 4th overall in 4:18.
Next up for area runners features the September 16 Katie Caples Invitational at Bishop Kenny with races starting at 8 a.m. with boys and girls middle schoolers and varsity high schoolers to go off at junior varsity races at 4:55 p.m., varsity at 6:05 p.m. and Elite races at 7 p.m.
In 2022, Oakleaf High grad Sierra Barerra finished 11th in the elite girls race in a quick 19:20.18 behind winner Lindy White of Ponte Vedra’s 18:29.
Also scheduled on the collegiate level and elite high schoolers is the Mountain Dew Invitational at the University of Florida featuring area runners now in college from Florida Southern College (MHS Emma Mussante, FIHS Marisa Kortright, KHHS Alex Guy), Flagler College (RHS Joel Nesi, OHS A’Jani Stokes) and University of South Florida (FIHS Katie Thompson).