Cross country runners Churchill, Wilkey, Brown finish high in FSU Invitational elite races
The Timberwolves' top two runners finished 4th and 6th, and Maclay's senior star finished fifth during elite races at Apalachee Regional Park
Running conditions Saturday morning at Apalachee Regional Park couldn’t have been more perfect, especially for the girls elite race which kicked off the 2019 FSU Invitational at 7:40 a.m.
With a perfect mix of weather and competition, Chiles seniors Alyson Churchill and Caitlin Wilkey had their eyes on career-best performances.
Nearly 18 minutes later, both had achieved their desired goal.
Churchill finished fourth overall in a PR 17:51.30. She won the FSU Invite her freshman year at Lincoln in 18:06, then ran 17:55 at ARP to win a state title, but since then she’s dealt with health troubles that had taken time to overcome.
“The whole race I felt good,” Churchill said. “I’m just really pleased.”
Wilkey, four times a winner already this year, crossed in sixth place, breaking 18:00 for the first time while hitting 17:54.80. Her time destroyed her previous best of 18:11 she ran last year to take seventh at state.
“It was so amazing,” Wilkey said. “I always get nervous when there’s a time barrier I want to break. This time it was 18:00, in track it was sub-5:00 in the mile. I think the nerves are good for me and I perform the best that way. The race turned out just the way I wanted.”
The Timberwolves, two-time defending Class 3A champs who moved up to 4A this year while vying for a three-peat, finished fourth as a team. They learned in the process they’ll have to contend with Tampa Newsome for the 4A title this year as the Wolves finished second, 24 points ahead of Chiles.
“We’re just really trying to focus the girls,” Wilkey said. “It’s a different group and a different dynamic from last year, so there’s an adjustment. But everyone is truly putting in the work, so we’ll just try to keep that up over the next month and keep motivating them. We’re still in and have a chance, so I think that will help everyone know we can do this.”
Churchill and Wilkey are both aiming for top three at the state meet to give Chiles its lowest possible points from those spots to aid 3-4-5 as they build the final score.
Churchill’s twin sister Megan was the Timberwolves’ third runner, crossing in 19:20, a personal best by seven seconds and a season-best time by 58 seconds.
“I’m really excited for the state meet,” Churchill said. “We’ll have more training time, so I think we can all drop our times even more.”
CROSS COUNTRY PREVIEW:Chiles' girls chasing after elusive state three-peat
In the elite boys race, Maclay senior Jay Brown and Tampa Robinson senior Ethan Geiger came through the two-mile mark at a blistering 9:44.
Jockeying for the top spots at that point, Brown, who ran a PR 15:14 a week ago at the Great American Cross Country Festival in North Carolina, fell apart over the last 1.2 miles.
Still, he finished fourth overall and was quick to dismiss the 15:28 time, despite it being his best time ever run at ARP.
Brown, who was third at state in Class 1A last year, leads his classification by 21 seconds overall. And despite his physical challenges Saturday, he still ran seven seconds better than the PR run by Cambridge Christian senior Reed Legg, who has the No. 2 time in 1A.
“I felt fine at the 2-mile because last week we came through at 9:45, and I don’t really overthink these times anymore because I’m used to seeing them,” Brown said. “I think what got me was running back to back. I never felt like I recovered. I was still sore today and during my workout Wednesday I was sore.
“I just looked at it as a workout. It was a good time to get on this course for right now. I’m just trying to narrow it down, focus on recovery the rest of the week, and then see what I can do during districts.”
Last year’s FSU Invitational was canceled as a result of Hurricane Michael, whose one-year anniversary hit this past week. It was a welcome return to normal for the field of 7,000 college and high school runners that raced Tallahassee’s pristine hills Friday and Saturday, especially because it does serve as a huge test leading into the postseason.
“It’s always fun to race guys that aren’t in your classification because you can see how you stack up against other people in the state,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, Andy wasn’t here, but it’s fun to see other guys.”
Around the area . . .
- Leon junior Avery Calabro finished 37th in the elite race and was the third area finisher. Her 19:16 time was a 34-second drop from her previous ARP best, run at the Big Bend Invitational on Aug. 31. Lions junior teammate Lilli Unger ran 19:44 and freshman Lily Moore ran 19:53 as Leon finished 15th.
- In the boys elite race, Leon sophomore Jackson Yarbrough ran his second sub-16:00 time this season, hitting 15:58 to finish 21st. Freshman Jake Rogers was 32nd in 16:13. Chiles sophomore Ben Kirbo was his team’s top finisher, running 16:22 to finish 44th.
- In the girls select race, Maclay freshman Ella Porcher cracked the top 10 in a season-best 19:28, and in the boys select, Lincoln junior Nicholas Samuel was the highest area finisher in 41st (17:04).
- Wakulla senior Diamond Cooper made the podium in the girls Varsity A race, finishing seventh in 20:54, which was a 23-second PR. War Eagles junior Nina Prince was 12th in 21:12, a personal best for her as well. And Wakulla senior Daniel Wiedeman ran a PR 17:18 to finish 16th in the boys Varsity A race.
- Lincoln junior Lauren Whittier finished second (21:13) in the girls Varsity B race (21:13), and North Florida Christian senior David Keen was second (16:57) in boys Varsity B.