Mainstreet Daily News correspondent

Ricky Quintana is a sports correspondent for Mainstreet Daily News. He has 27 years of experience covering cross country in North Central Florida for news outlets around the state and the country.

Oak Hall's Sydney Miller at Florida Horse Park Invitational in Ocala

Oak Hall's Sydney Miller (right-foreground) finished 14th overall and first for local runners at Florida Horse Park Invitational in Ocala.

We’re off to the races! Buckle up for the next three months as we rank the top cross country runners in North Central Florida.

Each week we’ll cover who is up and who is down—for both girls and boys.

Here is the criteria we’re using for the rankings:

1. Head-to-head competition. The sport of cross country affords athletes the opportunity to run against each other, regardless of classification. And how better to compare someone against someone else week in and week out?

We will score runners based on the number of competitors from the area in the race. The top area runner gets the most points for that race, with the last runner receiving the least amount of points.

As the season progresses, we will award more points each month and more for the state series. The good news is many of our area teams will run against each other often. Alligator Lake, Katie Caples and Bobcat Invitationals are key head-to-head competitions, and many teams will run the same course, which will sort out the area’s best runners.

2. Cross country times. Not all courses are the same. Runners might face hills or no hills, soft surfaces or harder surfaces, rain or no rain, cool temperatures or hot temperatures. Each week’s course brings a bundle of surprises on its own.

The runners who have the fastest times will get the most points, no matter the condition of the courses. With a minimum of five races required per season, everyone should have the opportunity to run against good competition on a fast course.

At the end of the season, the top 10 area runners will receive recognition on the Mainstreet Daily News All Area Team.

Good luck to all runners this season!

Girls

1. Sydney Miller, Oak Hall, Jr

The junior finished fourth fastest among area runners at the Cecil Field Classic in Jacksonville, clocking a time of 19:50. That was good for 18th in a highly competitive field. She followed that with a 20:08.3 to finish first among area runners and 14th overall at the Florida Horse Park Invitational in Ocala this past weekend. Afterward, the 1A 800 meter state runner up, stated her strategy in past years was to go out fast and then hold on. Now, she is trying to work through the race and be competitive throughout

2. Eliana Eisner, Oak Hall, So

The sophomore opened with a 21:28 at the Cecil Field Classic, then followed that with a 21:45.8 at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. A member of the Eagles 1A state champion 4 x 800 meter team, Eisner will be key to the Eagles’ hope to reach the podium in November.

3. Catalina Romero, St. Francis, So

Romero lowered her seasonal best on the tougher Florida Horse Park Invitational course on Saturday. Her 21:33.9 was third best among area runners. She’s been running since she was in fifth grade and has improved every year. Though only a sophomore, she is one of the leaders of the Wolves’ team that hopes to advance to state.

4. Kate Drummond, Buchholz, Jr

The junior surprised a lot of people in cross country running circles with her 18:39 victory at the Cecil Field Classic last week. It was expected, though, for many who have watched this runner progress since she was in middle school. Building on her 11:10.03 to finish 10th place finish in the 3200 meter run and a 5:07.0 to finish sixth in the 1600 meter at the 4A state championships last track season, Drummond has continued to improve. Her new personal best erased the disappointment she felt after finishing eighth at the regional championships and her team just missing out on a trip to the state cross country championships last year. With motivational stickers posted on her mirror and a renewed dedication to training, Drummond has emerged as one of the top runners in Class 4A, the area and the state.

5. Lucy Voss, Buchholz, So

The Colorado transplant opened with a personal best of 19:20. That bested her personal best time by 1 minute, 29 seconds from last year. Now a bit more accustomed to the Florida humidity and a stint training in Colorado this past summer, Voss is off to a fantastic start to the season.

6. Ani Veltcheva, GHS, Sr

Gainesville HS's Ani Veltcheva

Gainesville's Ani Veltcheva.

The area’s fastest runner of all time with her 17:47 at the state 3A meet in 2018, Veltcheva enters her senior year ranked sixth among area runners after her first race. Her 20:57.2 at Florida Horse Park was second best in the area and set the tone for the ‘Canes, who are pointing toward the postseason to see their best times. Veltcheva will balance swimming with cross country once again as she looks to finish off her season with a bang with two state championship appearances.

7. Emma White, Buchholz, So

The sophomore only began running the summer before her freshman year and has made the biggest gains of all the Bobcats. Her 19:31 at the Cecil Field Classic was a personal best by 37 seconds and is the third fastest time in the area. She is part of a very young Bobcat team of all underclassmen, who could gel into one of the area’s best teams ever.

8. Mackenzie Klein, Oak Hall, So

Klein was a big factor in Oak Hall claiming last year’s 1A state cross country championship. She opened this year with a 22:00 at the Cecil Field Classic and followed that with a 22:24.7 at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. She runs best at state, so look for another postseason improvement from her.

9. Ashley Hamilton, Buchholz, Fr

A heralded frosh after having a successful middle school campaign in cross country and track, Hamilton competed in her first 5k ever at the Cecil Field Classic. Her time of 20:58 was tops among freshman in the area and contributed to the Bobcats surprising second place showing.

10. Eleanor Whisler, Buchholz, Fr

Another heralded frosh after having a successful middle school campaign in cross country and track, Whisler was just behind Hamilton finishing in a time of 21:07. With more experience under her belt, she and Hamilton could send the Bobcats to state and compete for a top 10 finish.

11. Ellie Cervantes, PKY, 8th

Cervantes seems like she has been running for an eternity, yet it is only her third year running cross country. Saturday, she opened with a 21:54.7 to pace the Blue Wave at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. That was just short of her 21:50.8 best time at the District 5-2A meet last year.

12. Paulina Cervantes, PKY, 8th

The twin sister of Ellie finished just behind her in a time of 21:56. That was better than her 22:06 time from last year and bodes well for the season. Last year, she finished the season with a best of 20:45.4.

13. Jemima Tolentino, Eastside, Sr

The senior posted her first and fastest time ever running 22:24.3 at the Cecil Field Classic. Keep an eye on this diamond in the rough.

14. Lola Murfee, Oak Hall, 7th

The youngster ran the 3k distance during cross country last season, but popped at 22:24.5 in her 5k debut Saturday at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. She made the transition seem easy and with the Eagles being a postseason focused team, we could see more improvement from Murfree.

15. Elizabeth Blitch, Santa Fe, Sr

Blitch opened the season with a personal best of 22:28 at the Cecil Field Classic. She then lowered it again to 22:20.0 at the Big Bend Invitational on the site of the state meet, Apalachee Regional Park. With more racing, we could see a post season appearance from this Raider.

16. Laci Herron, PKY, Sr

Hard to believe this is Herron’s sixth and final season in cross country. The dual swimming and cross country athlete opened with a 22:48.7 to help the Blue Wave to a 27th place finish at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. On Monday, she posted wins in the 100 yard butterfly, a second in the 200 yard IM, and swam legs on their relays to lead P.K. Yonge to a win over St. Francis and GHS. She’ll try to boost the Blue Wave’s chances of getting a berth and good showing at the state championships in November.

17. Elizabeth Loosli, Buchholz, Sr

The senior opened with a season best of 22:37 at the Cecil Field Classic. That’s a good start for a veteran runner who owns a personal best of 21:39.0.

18. Gayathry Prabhakaran, GHS, Sr

Prabhakaran opened the season with a personal best of 23:13.9. That was an improvement of 12 seconds over her best time set in 2019.

19. Gloria Chang, Buchholz, So

The Bobcat sophomore ran 22:52.0 at the Cecil Field Classic. Her time of 22:52.0 improved her best by 41 seconds. Being her first outing of the season, she could lower her time considerably as the season progresses.

20. Brooke Bedson, GHS, Sr

The senior opened with a season best of 23:39.1 at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. This senior-laden team will look to her to bring along a solid freshman class in hopes of advancing in the state series.

21. Macy Morris, Eastside, Fr

Morris used her middle school experience to be one of the top Rams at their first race, The Florida Horse Park Invitational. Her time of 23:46.1 was a solid effort for the first go around in the 5k. Look more from the frosh as the season progresses.

Boys

1. Caden Montini, Oak Hall, Jr

The junior opened the season last week with a personal best time of 15:58.0, which was the second fastest in the area.

Oak Hall Caden Montini

Oak Hall's Caden Montini.

This week at the Florida Horse Park Invitational, he was off his best time, but still came out tops in the area with a 16:36.80 to finish 23rd and lead Oak Hall to ninth place finish—tops among area teams.

2. Asher Dobrin, Oak Hall, Sr

Dobrin improved on last week’s time by 15 seconds to post the area’s fourth fastest time this season. Afterward he said he now runs with an inhaler for his asthma bouts and this was the seventh and last time he’d run at the Florida Horse Park Invitational.

3. Julian Bautista, St. Francis, Sr

For the second week in a row, Bautista lowered his season best time. This time it was good enough for 29th place at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. His 16:49.7 time just fell shy of his 16:48.0 personal best, which was set at last year’s state finals.

4. Jake Ciocca, Oak Hall, Sr

On a slower course and tougher conditions Saturday at the Florida Horse Park Invitational, Ciocca managed to lower his seasonal best to 17:25.8 by one second.

5. Emerson Miller, Buchholz, Jr

The Eastside transfer got the season off to a quick start with the area’s best time of 15:50.0—good for sixth in a star-studded field at the Cecil Field Classic. The mercurial ascent for this junior began last year when he ran 17:08 to win the District 5-2A individual title. After a personal best of 9:53.16 in the 3200 meter run in the track season, Miller posted a 15:59 time in the Elite division of the Run for the Pies 5k in Jacksonville in June. A steady diet of 60-mile weeks have catapulted this junior to one of the top runners in the area, Class 4A and in the state.

6. Wrigley Longstreet, Buchholz, Sr

The senior crushed his personal best by 57 seconds to finish 22nd at the Cecil Field Classic in a time of 16:33.0. Along with Miller, he is one of the most improved runners this year. The pair will form a tough one-two punch for the Bobcats at the front of the pack. With these two leading the way, the Bobcats could reinvent themselves in the next two months and make them a factor in the regional and state championships.

7. Peter Peloso, Oak Hall, Fr

The freshman lowered his personal best by 12 seconds to finish 91st at the Florida Horse Park Invitational in a time of 17:45.10. After running a 10:22.10 3200 meter and 4:49.23 1600 meter run in the track last season, the sky is the limit for the second quickest frosh in the area.

8. Jack Muir, Buchholz, Sr

The St. Francis transfer lowered his season best to 17:05 to open the season at the Cecil Field Classic. That was the sixth best time among area runners.

9. Matthew Ortiz, Santa Fe, Sr

Ortiz didn’t get to run in the same race as Buchholz and St. Francis at the Cecil Field Classic. However, in the varsity division he held his own to finish eighth in a time of 17:30.0. He followed that with a 17:55 at the Big Bend Invitational which was run on the site of the state meet course, Apalachee Regional Park.

10. Phillip Matchev, Buchholz, Fr

The frosh debuted with a 17:43.0 personal best to finish 88th at the Cecil Field Classic. That was fourth fastest among the Bobcats which are an up and coming team in class 4A and in the area. It was also the fastest of all freshman in the area this season.

11. Gabe Collante, Oak Hall, Jr

The junior knocked 51 seconds off his Cecil Field Classic time to finish 99th in a season-best time of 17:53.7. As the season progresses, Collante will be counted on to drop more time and turn the tide for the Eagles, who have been team runner-up three times in a row.

12. Quinten Dragstedt, Oak Hall, So

The Eagle sophomore opened with a personal best of 18:15 at the Cecil Field Classic and followed that with a 18:36.8 at the Florida Horse Park Invitational.

13. Tony Matchev, Buchholz, Sr

The senior ran in the varsity race of the Cecil Field Classic and posted a season best of 17:48. A sub 17-minute and sub 10-minute 3200 meter runner last year, the team will count on him to advance the Bobcats to a state appearance.

14. Finn Smith, GHS, Sr

The senior posted a personal best of 17:41.7 in his first race of the season Saturday at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. He’s bowed out of playing travel soccer, is running more days and hopes to break 17 minutes by season’s end.

15. Riley Smith, Buchholz, So

The only freshman in last year’s 1600 meter run 4A state final, Smith began his first cross country season by posting a time of 17:50.0. The soccer player began running in February of 2020 and lowered his 1600 meter time from 4:59.29 to 4:27.38 by the state finals in May. If he can do the same for cross country, he could be one of the top runners in the area.

16. Hayden Schoster, St. Francis, So

The sophomore lowered his personal best to 18:24.0 in his first meet of the season, the Cecil Field Classic. He followed that with an 18:55.40 on a slower course at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. He’s got a ton of experience and had a good summer, so expect more improvement from this Wolf.

17. Joshua Adolphson, Buchholz, Jr

The Bobcat junior ran 18:02 to open the season. That was off his 17:53 personal best from last year at districts. After running a 1:59.73 for 800 meters in track last year, an improvement is likely on the horizon.

18. Landon Turley, St. Francis, Fr

Turley clocked an 18:32 to open the season at Cecil Field Classic and followed that with an 18:48.3 at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. Though just a frosh, this Wolf has made an immediate impact on the team and could propel them to another state championship berth.

19. Lucas Conaty, St. Francis, Sr

The senior has improved remarkably since last season. He produced a new personal best by 1 minute, 3 seconds over his first meet, finishing in a time of 18:41. Then in tougher conditions, lowered it to an 18:35 at the Florida Horse Park Invitational. With the season so young, expect Conaty to continue to improve like he did last cross country season.

20. Carlos Segura, Buchholz, Sr

The senior opened with an 18:06 at the Cecil Field Classic, which was just off his personal best of 18:00.5 run last year at the FSU PreState Invitational.

21. Casey Castaldo, Buchholz, Sr

Castaldo clobbered his personal best by 3 minutes at the Cecil Field Classic. His 18:28.0 was good for 26th in the varsity race.

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