Buchholz girls bring home 4A state title

As with all state championships, there are both expected and some unexpected results. The triangulation of human performance on a given day is one of the mysteries that may never be resolved, but that is sports. That journey, that opportunity to perform—it’s chance, luck, and the intangibles.

Saturday in the most important race of the season, the Buchholz girls brought home their second title in school history after a 16 year dry spell as the last coach to lead them to a championship, Ron Norris, watched from the crowd with his wife, Natalie. Norris’s apprentice, Mike Maren, was there in 2005 when Norris won that day.

After last season where the Bobcat girls team missed qualifying for state by three points—albeit in a COVID-revised qualification system which saw only four teams from each region advance— the Bobcats had a memorable season sweeping the district, region and state titles like they did in 2005.

The area has now brought home a state championship in each of the last three years and 13 cross country titles in total. Next year, the season looks bright. The Buchholz girls team returns their top five scorers from Saturday.

Oak Hall’s girls and boys teams and Buchholz boys teams had solid results and will build towards next season to possibly bring home more titles. Both Eagles teams finished third in the Class 1A State Finals while the Bobcats placed eight. The Saint Francis Catholic Academy (Gainesville) boys team finished 11th in the Class 1A State Finals.

It’s been a pleasure covering the sport this season and getting to know and meet all the athletes, coaches and parents. Ranking is an inexact science. As Hannah Gwynn, a teenager in 4-H that was wise well beyond her years, once told me a long time ago after one of her competitions where the judge decided the victors, “it’s only their opinion. I know what I did or didn’t do and I can’t control what the judge thinks.”

Keep training and keep dreaming big. In cross country, you get out what you put into it, plain and simple.

Class 4A Girls State Finals results (top 10 teams/points):

1. Buchholz, 114; 2. Newsome, 139; 3. Lakewood Ranch, 197; 4. Niceville, 198; 5. Timber Creek, 218; 6. HB Plant, 233; 7. G. Holmes Braddock, 239; 8. Olympia, 309; 9. Chiles, 320; 10. Wharton, 331.

Class 4A Boys State Finals results (top 10 teams/points):

1. Vierra, 104; 2. Creekside, 104; 3. Bartram Trail, 143; 4. Christopher Columbus, 184; 5. HB Plant, 233; 6. Chiles, 245; 7. Nease, 247; 8. Buchholz, 264; 9. Niceville, 298; 10. Newsome, 299.

Class 2A Boys State Finals results (local team finish only with points):

29., Eastside, 637.

Class 1A Girls State Finals results (top 10 teams/points):

1. Cambridge Christian, 26; 2. Circle Christian, 98; 3. Oak Hall, 107; 4. Maclay, 119; 5. Pensacola Christian Academy, 229; 6. Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, 234; 7. Lakeland Christian, 293; 8. Benjamin, 309; 9. South Florida HEAT, 331; 10. Holy Trinity Academy, 364.

Class 1A Boys State Finals results (top 10 teams/points and other local team finish):

1. Indian Rocks Christian, 106; 2. Circle Christian, 118; 3. Oak Hall, 126; 4. Pensacola Christian Academy, 185; 5. Cambridge Christian, 222; 6. Seffner Christian, 279; 7. Palmer Trinity, 281; 8. Out of Door Academy, 310; 9. Southwest Florida Christian Academy, 338; 10. Foundation Academy, 338; 11. Saint Francis Catholic, 346.

Girls

1. Kate Drummond, Buchholz, Jr

Drummond went undefeated against area competition and only lost four times this season against all state competition. The state meet didn’t go quite as planned for her as she finished fifth in a time of 18 minutes, 59.3 seconds after being with the leaders early on. However, she took the hand that she was dealt and battled to be the low stick her team needed to win against an inspired Newsome team. She did that and then some!

2. Lauren Jones, Oak Hall, Sr

Jones recorded the fastest area time of the season (18:23.0) in finishing second at the New World Fall Spectacular. Her only losses to area runners beside Drummond came in her first race back at the Alligator Lake Invitational. From then on, she led the Eagles to district and regional titles and a third place team finish at state. She finished her career with two fourths, one second and a third place individual finish at state and helped Oak Hall to two team state titles. Jones placed fourth at state Friday in 19:03.80.

3. Lucy Voss, Buchholz, So

Voss, like her teammate Drummond, was the most consistent performer all season. She was the Bobcats second runner in all but the district and the state meet and she never finished behind Oak Hall’s Sydney Miller and finished behind Jones just twice. Her best time of 19:10 came on a tough day at the Bobcat Classic at Santa Fe College and it was the fourth best time in the area. She finished 20th at state in 19:46.

4. Sydney Miller, Oak Hall, Jr

Miller was among the top four in the area in every race she ran this year. Not pleased with her past strategy of going out fast and then holding on, she switched to a come-from-behind strategy that worked well for her all season. Her 19:07 at the New World Fall Spectacular was the third best in the area. At state, she competed well placing 16th in a time of 19:44.8 to help Oak Hall to a third place finish.

5. Emma White, Buchholz, So

White was the key runner at the front at the state meet for the Bobcats. As she has all season, she competed and placed well in the area’s third best time of the day (19:36.7) to finish 16th. She never had that breakout time she wanted, but it’s the place that counts in races and White always made sure to be competitive no matter what. White placed 17th at the state meet in 19:36.70.

6. Alivia Dragstedt, Oak Hall, Fr

After a slow start, Dragstedt came on like gangbusters at Katie Caples where she finished 24th in 19:58 for her first sub 20 minute performance. Her goal was to stay with Miller in each race and she followed her teammate closely as they racked up team titles at the district and region meets. At state, she was just two places behind Miller in 18th in a time of 19:52.2—a solid performance on a tough day. She was 3-1 in head to head competition with Buchholz’s Eleanor Whisler and Ashley Hamilton. They are all freshmen so there should be some great battles ahead.

7. Eleanor Whisler, Buchholz, Fr

Whisler gauged herself well throughout the season. The number five runner at the beginning sought to close the gap between her and her big three teammates—Drummond, Voss and White—as the season progressed. At districts, she popped a personal best time of 19:15.40 to finish as the No. 2 runner for the Bobcats and followed that with a third best finish for the team at regionals in a time of 19:47.20. The Bobcat trio became a foursome and Whisler’s performance at state gave them the added cushion they needed to win the school’s second title in school history where she placed 28th in 20:05.80.

Gainesville's Ani Veltcheva finished 55th at 3A state cross country

8. Ani Veltcheva, GHS, Sr

Veltcheva entered the year undertrained and looking to improve throughout the season. She started off slowly for the area 5K cross country record holder, 17:46.58, but as the season progressed she lowered her times hitting a season best of 19:24.00 to finish sixth at the district meet. This despite nursing a leg injury and competing for her state-qualifying 200-meter Freestyle and 400-meter Freestyle relay teams. She bowed out of FSU PreState due to injury and at state she lined up and gave it a go favoring her leg as she finished 55th in a time of 20:16.80 in the 3A division. She ends her cross country season with two All Sun Runners of the Year, a runner-up finish her freshman year and as a three-time qualifier for state.

9. Paulina Cervantes, P.K. Yonge, 8th

After finishing 27th in a time of 21:02 at the Bobcat Classic, Cervantes went on a tear in the state series. Each week as she battled with eventual team state champion Bolles High School, Cervantes lowered her personal best. At the state meet, she nearly eclipsed the 20 minute barrier running 20:01.70 for 37th place. She was just one second behind the fastest eighth grader, Kyla Faint of North Bay Haven, who ran 20:00.70. At such a young age, she’ll be one to watch over the next four years.

10. Ashley Hamilton, Buchholz, Fr

Hamilton improved each week until the Bobcat Classic where she had a tough time with the conditions finishing 29th in a time of 21:13.70. She righted herself at districts finishing with her best time of the season, 20:01.80 to finish 14th. At state, she ran competitively and gave the Bobcats the edge they needed coming from 90th to 68th place in the last mile as the Bobcats beat Newsome, 114-139.

11. Ellie Cervantes, P.K. Yonge, 8th

Taking a page from her sister’s playbook, Ellie Cervantes upped her game in the state series. She raced to a 14th place finish and personal best of 20:22.84 at the District 2-2A Meet. Then finished it off with two solid performances with 23rd at regions (20:31.80) and 63rd at state (20:32.70). This despite the distraction of her team being disqualified for running eight runners instead of seven at the region meet—a tough pill to swallow for the tight knit Blue Wave team. But the team did travel to watch and support the Cervantes sisters who again performed splendidly for the third weekend in a row.

12. Mackenzie Klein, Oak Hall, So

Klein didn’t have the monster race at the state meet that she had last year that enabled Oak Hall to claim its second straight team title in a tie breaker over Cambridge Christian. However, she did perform well finishing 32nd in a time of 20:39.50. Her best time was a 19:57.0 that came at the super-fast New World Fall Spectacular course and another great performance at the Bobcat Classic, 20th in a time of 20:35.20.

13. Anna Jane Meeks, Chiefland, 8th

Meeks continued her stupendous post season running 20:44.50 to finish 34th in the 1A division. Meeks started off running in the middle school races at the beginning of the year finishing seventh at Florida Horse Park Invitational in 12:34. She went on to win the Cedar Key race in 21:37.7 on Oct. 7 before breaking out in the state series. She’s another young runner who will be fun to watch in the coming years.

Oak Hall's Lola Murfee and Valeria Beaver at cross country state finals

14. Audrey Fender, Colombia, Jr

Fender did not get the opportunity to compete at the state meet. Fender’s best time came at the District 2-3A Meet where she finished 22nd in a time of 20:39.0.

15. Jemima Tolentino, Eastside, Sr

In an interview earlier in the year, Tolentino thought aloud at what might have been had she begun to run cross country earlier in high school. She started running last year to get in shape for soccer and planned to compete in cross country, but was injured. This year, she kept improving throughout the season and qualified for state as an individual. At state, she finished 81st with a new personal best of 21:02.3. It was the fourth race in a row she had lowered her time. Not bad for her first and last season unless she decides to pursue the sport after high school.

16. Lola Murfee, Oak Hall, 7th

At the New World Fall Spectacular, Murfee’s mom engaged me in a brief conversation about the interviews and rankings I was doing. She said that I probably wouldn’t know her daughter because she was slower than some of the other girls. Well, as it turns out, Murfee is now one of the fast girls and has worked her way into and up the rankings. The seventh grader posted a 21:03 that day and in the state series, backed it up with a 21:15.70 at the regional championships and then a 21:18.60 at the state meet to finish 117th and score for the Eagles. The future looks bright for this youngster.

17. Valeria Beaver, Oak Hall, 7th

Oak Hall paired certain runners with others after mid-season and it worked well. Beaver followed her partner, Murfee, to a personal best of 21:09.1 in the rain-soaked course at the Region 2-1A Championships at Santa Fe College. At the state championships, she did it again registering a 21:24.50 for 58th.

18. Gloria Chang, Buchholz, So

Chang posted a best of 21:06.70 at the District 1-4A Meet. At state she finished 117th in 21:30.70 and became a state champion. Chang was part of the team that did not qualify last year and stuck with it and became an important team member for the Bobcats this year.

19. Elizabeth Blitch, Santa Fe, Sr

Blitch’s best time came at the New World Fall Spectacular where she finished 52nd in a time of 20:57.0. She had some close races with Tolentino in the state series. At state she finished 152nd in a time of 22:13.60.

20. Catalina Romero, St. Francis, So

Romero did not get the chance to run state as her season ended at regionals. Her best time this season was a 21:11 at the New World Fall Spectacular on Oct. 2.

21. Eliana Eisner, Oak Hall, So

Eisner did not finish the regional championship and was listed as questionable for state by head coach Edwin McTureous. She did line up and finished 209th in a time of 27:01.1—obviously, she was not at 100 percent. Eisner finished the season with a personal best of 19:44.0 set at the New World Fall Spectacular.

Boys

Buchholz's Riley Smith finished 68th at the 4A state finals

1. Emerson Miller, Buchholz, Jr

Miller saved his best effort for last. The transfer from Eastside was a juggernaut at the beginning of the season, doling out defeats to area runners. That’s heady stuff for a kid who finished 57th at the Class 2A State Meet in a time of 17:51.90 last year. His best was 15:50 from the first race of the season and he held up well through the early season. But then a few injuries sprung up which required days off and an interruption in his training routine. At the FSU PreState, he suffered his first loss to an area runner as he finished in 16:04.60—18 seconds behind Oak Hall’s Caden Montini who erased his area best time. Miller kept his focus and ran strong in the tough district and region meets to help the Bobcats qualify for state for the first time since 2018.

At state, he bided his time running evenly as he worked from the back of the pack to pick up the fast starters. At the two-mile mark, he was in 13th and then he caught the tiring runners ahead of him to finish ninth in a time of 15:57.40. It was the fourth best performance from his region which will see three-time state champion Rheinhardt Harrison of Nease and this year’s fourth-place finisher, Ben Kirbo of Chiles, graduate. It was also the best area time at the state meet and the third time under 16 minutes—one more than Caden Montini who Miller maintained a 4-1 head-to-head record over this season.

It will be back to the drawing board for track season and a senior cross country season that could be even better than this year.

2. Caden Montini, Oak Hall, Jr

Montini came into the season as the area’s best returning runner. However, with Miller’s emergence, he took his lumps. His opener of 15:58 was a personal best by 24 seconds, but then he reverted to mid 16-minute times and mid-range performances on more difficult courses. Then came an injury which kept him out of the New World Fall Spectacular. That day he watched as he saw the best performances by four runners in Florida cross country history in Rheinhardt Harrison (Nease) at 14:45, Michael Topp i(Viera) at 14:55, Patrick Koon (Leon) at 15:05, and Mathew Stratton (St. John’s Country Day) at 15:10. More importantly, he

saw his team run their best race of the season.

When he returned for the FSU PreState meet, Montini raced to a 16th place finish in 15:46.10. It was a personal best and a seasonal area best time. Easy wins district and region wins came afterwards as the Eagles sought to be the first team in school history to come away with a state championship. They had strung together three straight runner-up finishes..

At state, Montini was in contention for the lead, but faded over the last mile to finish 10th in a time of 16:34.50. With track season ahead Montini will shift his focus to defending his 3200-meter state title.

3. Mason Kawaja, Buchholz, Jr

Kawaja did it again. At the beginning of the season, he was sidelined with an injury that consumed much of his summer preparation time. He returned and pecked away, lowering his time each race before taking off a huge chunk of time to reach his personal best of 16:30 at Katie Caples. Then injury and sickness meddled with his progress again. He slowly got back into it at districts and at state he posted a solid 41st finish at the 4A state championship in a near personal best of 16:33.10. With two comebacks in one season, imagine what he could do if he remains healthy for a year?!

4. Wrigley Longstreet, Buchholz, Sr

Longstreet was solid all year long. He opened with a 16:33.0 for 22nd at the Cecil Field Classic and consistently finished near the front throughout the season. His best time of 16:29.10 came placing 12th at the New World Golf Course. At state, he had an off day posting a slower time and finishing back in the pack with his 75th place and 17:07.20 time. He had a 3-1 record against Dobrin head to head and 4-0 record against Bautista.

5. Asher Dobrin, Oak Hall, Sr

Dobrin had his best year ever. Though the 1A title escaped the Eagles, Dobrin put together a string of performances that gave them a chance at the title. He recorded his fastest time and best effort at the New World Fall Spectacular posting a 16:20 personal best. He followed that with an impressive 16:27.40 at the FSU PreState Invitational. At state, he finished 26th in a time of 17:07.10 with the anguish of the effort showing in his face as he crossed the line, the third Eagles runner across the line.

6. Julian Bautista, St. Francis, Sr

Bautista came into the season as the most experienced member of the Wolves’ team. He managed to post a near personal best of 16:54 at Cecil Field and followed that with another solid effort of 16:49.70. Then the pressure of expectations and leading the team got to him and he had some unordinary efforts. He changed his outlook and began to reap the benefits. He began to compete better and the times followed as he posted a personal best of 16:37.0 at the New World Fall Spectacular. He continued to post solid efforts and at state he finished 23rd in a time of 17:04.50, which was the area’s sixth best time of the day.

7. Riley Smith, Buchholz, So

Smith had the fourth-best area performance of the day at the state meet. He was the third Bobcat across the line in 68th place with a time of 17:01.01, a new personal best. He was the one of two ranked runners who improved at the state meet.

8. Gabe Collante, Oak Hall, Jr

Collante started slow, but shook off the rust to post a personal best of 16:36.0 at the New World Fall Spectacular. He followed that with his only other sub 17 performance at the FSU PreState Invitational where he finished 93rd in a time of 16:58.80. At state, he finished 41st in a time of 17:30.60, his fourth-best time of the season and fifth best for the Eagles.

Oak Hall's Jake Ciocca and Gabe Collante helped Eagles to 3rd place 1A state finish

9. Finn Smith, GHS, Sr

Smith finished the season by placing 20th at the Region 1-3A Meet in a time of 17:07.6.

10. Tony Matchev, Buchholz, Sr

Matchev started his summer training late because of an injury during track season. He raced himself into shape posting his best time and having his best effort at the Bobcat Classic (16:29.10). He too became ill in the middle of the season, which kept him out of the FSU PreState meet the following week, and then got back on the wagon to post a 29th place finish at districts and a superb 10th place finish with a 16:37.40 time at the region meet. Matchev’s injuries returned before the state meet and as a precaution he did not run the state meet.

11. Ryland Kane, Oak Hall, Sr

Kane found a way to produce great performances at key times during the season. His best came at the New World Fall Classic where he finished 35th in a time of 16:54.0 which was the fourth best Eagle. At state, he produced a 21st place finish and time of 17:03.20. That was the fifth best time in the area.

12. Matthew Ortiz, Santa Fe, Sr

Ortiz made sure to run his best when it counted. Needing to finish in one of the top three individual state-qualifying spots at regionals, he produced his personal best (17:13.0) at the New World Golf Course to advance. At state, he ran 17:36.80 to finish 17th in the Class 2A division.

13. Jake Ciocca, Oak Hall, Sr

Ciocca ran his best time (16:42.0) at the New World Fall Spectacular. At state he produced a solid 17:19.80 to finish 33rd.

14. Peter Peloso, Oak Hall, Fr

Peloso made great strides this season producing a best of 17:11 at the New World Fall Spectacular. At state, he finished 84th in a time of 18:14.60.

15. Philip Matchev, Buchholz, Fr

Matchev finished 110th at the state meet in a time of 17:37.0. The freshman ran consistently throughout the season and had a personal best of 17:21.0 he set in finishing 64th at the Katie Caples Invitational.

16. Quinten Dragstedt, Oak Hall, So

Dragstedt had his best effort and time at the FSU PreState Invitational where he finished 128th in a time of 17:14.60. At state he finished 95th in a time of 18:23.0.

17. Alan Qui, Buchholz, Jr

Qui had a best time of 17:18.70 at the FSU PreState Invitational. He finished 185th at the state meet.

18. Landon Turley, St. Francis, Fr

Turley had a best of 17:38.0 at the New World Fall Spectacular. At state he finished 107th in a time of 18:33.8.

19. Joshua Adolphson, Buchholz, Jr

Adolphson did not compete at the state meet.

20. Mark Nance, Buchholz, So

Nance did not compete at the state meet.

21. Jack Muir, Buchholz, 12th

Muir did not compete at the state meet.

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