As they have for the past several years, Dillard’s Christiana Coleman and American Heritage’s Ashley Fitzgerald battled it out for cross country supremacy.
The seniors traded leads ahead of the pack for most of Friday morning’s Class 3A state cross country meet until Coleman pulled away the final 400 meters down the hill in chilly temperatures at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee to win the state title she has chased since she was in the seventh grade. Fitzgerald, a UF commit, finished second.
“This race we ran together the whole time and I kind of pulled away going up the last hill,” said Coleman, who finished sixth at last year’s state meet. “We have been battling each other for years, so I knew what I was getting myself into and it just worked out.”
In winning her first individual state championship (17:43.40), Coleman also smashed her previous best time (18:15.80) set in the Region 4-3A meet in 2021 by more than 30 seconds. She also helped the Panthers to their first team state championship in school history.
“We came up here wanting four girls in the 18s and we were able to do that,” said Dillard coach Davidson Gill, whose daughter Britney had been the only other girl from Dillard to win an individual title in 2015. “I am very proud of the team because we are the first black American school to ever win a state championship.
“This is the second year in a row that Christiana took the summer off, but she has been racing really well the last few weeks,” Gill added. “She took it really seriously this year because it was her last year, and I even matched her against the boys in practice. She proved to me that she was ready.”
Dillard, which finished with 46 points, made up 29 points during the final two miles of the race to top runner-up Ponte Vedra (66). They placed their top four runners — seventh grader Shyna Collins (18:26.5) in third, seventh grader Miley Gill, the coach’s daughter, fifth, and senior Raquel Edwards (18:55.5) 11th — in the top 11.
“I was happy that Christiana and Ashley were close to me,” said Collins, a standout 800-meter runner. “I thought it was a good race. The only thing bad was the hills.”
Added: Gill: “I gutted it out. I was tired, but it was pretty cool to win the school’s first state championship.”
Fitzgerald was pleased with her effort.
“It was a good race,” said Fitzgerald, who has finished state runner-up the past three years. “We went out pretty fast the first mile. I planned to get out pretty quickly and set the pace. I didn’t want to be stuck at a slower pace.
“It was a pretty chill race,” she added. “We stayed together for about three-fourths of the race, no one was making any crazy moves, and towards the end, she pulled away. I tried to respond, but the rest is history.”
Top finishers in the boys Class 3A competition included Dillard junior Josh Gammage (15:56) who was 12th. St. Thomas Aquinas senior Christopher Adams placed 16th (16:04.4) and Dillard senior Dashon Gill (16:37) was 31st.
Flanagan senior Shamar Henry wasn’t sure what to expect in the boy’s Class 4A race, but he turned out a personal-best finish of 15:35.40 to finish fourth overall. Henry, who finished 27th at last year’s state meet (16:23.30) trimmed nearly three seconds off his personal best of 15:38.06, set at the Spanish River Invitational earlier this season.
“It was really shocking, especially on that course,” Henry said. “There were a lot of really fast runners, so my strategy was to stay in the pack, stay controlled, and, when the time came, to make my move.
“Ever since my first race at Spanish River and ran my PR, I haven’t really come close to that,” he added. “I just overthought a lot of things this season. I was ranked to come either 15th or 16th at state, so when I was running with guys in the low 15s, it really shocked me, but I’m happy.”
Spanish River sophomore Preston Sangley was the top boys finisher from Palm Beach County in the race going 16:15.50 for 36th place. It was nearly three minutes faster than the time he ran at last year’s state meet.
“It wasn’t what I was expecting to do,” Sangley, who helped the Sharks finish 13th (366 points). “I had a bad cramp in my side, but overall, I think I had a great year.”
Coral Springs junior Jeffrey Belizaire was 32nd overall with 16:10.90, while Cypress Bay senior Kiran Nadanam was 42nd (16:22) as the Lightning finished 12th (336 points).
Wellington junior Danielle Baig (19:14.60) was the top local girls finisher in the Class 4A competition, taking 17th. Sophomore Kirsten Maarsingh was 27th with a time of 19:34.60 and junior Cameron Shelby was 35th (19:49.70) as the Wolverines finished 14th at state
Spanish River senior Laney Williams was 29th (19:36) to help the Sharks take 11th with 322 points. Forest Hill junior Ella Thorfinn (20:03.3) was 42nd overall. Buchholz won with 143 points.
King’s Academy senior Avery Fronrath led the way in the Girls Class 2A race by finishing eighth with a time of 18:40.20.
“I felt good,” said Fronrath, who finished 10th last year and ninth in 2021. “It was a good end to my senior (cross country) season. I just went out and gave it my best. Even though my time wasn’t a PR, I get to walk away knowing I gave it my all.”
Calvary Christian seventh grader Harper Thomerson (20:05.80) was 41st. and senior teammate Isabella Del Busto (20:19.60) finished 47th.
Other top finishers in the Class 2A girls’ race included King’s Academy junior Isabella Krell was 45th in 20:18.30, while Pine Crest junior Emma Supple took 53rd (20:24.70) and freshman Michaela Lang was 57th(20:32.40) and junior Lila Feeley (20:33.30) was 58th.
In the Class 2A boys, FAU High junior Seth Roque-Munoz was 28th (16:51.20), King’s Academy senior Hudson Gates finished 37th (17:01.90) and Calvary Christian senior Mason Morin was 63rd (17:24.9).
Westminster Academy junior Jonathan Pena finished third in the boys’ Class 1A race with a time of 15:57.0, which represented the best finish at state by a Lions runner since Westminster’s Sean Lyden won in 1990. Westminster Academy junior Tanner Pritchard was 27th (16:49.9).
“I went out slow, conservative, and then I wanted to kick it at the end,” Pena said. “I think I did pretty well, but I could have pushed it a little more in the end.”
South Florida HEAT finished third with 145 points as they were paced by sophomores Joseph Dorn (16:28.20, 18th) and Augusto Caceres (16:29.30, 19th), and seniors Chipper Edwards (16:50.20, 28th) and Hunter Morgan (16:52.70. 30th).
Westminster Academy was sixth with 220 points, just three points out of the top five. Cardinal Newman sophomore Kenneth Wagner was 44th in 17:11.10.
Westminster Academy eighth grader Claire Cannon placed 23rd in the girls’ race (19:55.00), while freshman teammate Noelle Richardson was 57th (20.50.2) to help the girls finish eighth with 293 points.
Other top local finishers in the girls 1A race included Lake Worth Christian freshman Isabella Kovacs, who was 27th (20:02.30); South Florida HEAT senior Kayley Dorn was 30th (20:09.10) and South Florida HEAT seventh grader Gracie Dorn was 43rd (20:30.4) while St. John Paul II Academy sophomore Marissa Tankersley finished 63rd in 21:00.60.