It was a super day for runners and running fans on Saturday morning at Mackle Park.
The day marked a historical time as the new Marco Island Academy High School ran in its first meet and a record number of teams toed the line in the middle school meet.
The day featured runners from seven high schools and 13 middle schools, with over 200 runners taking part in the 5k (high school) and 3k races (middle school).
The morning started very early as I was on the course at 4:30 a.m. as setting up two different length courses takes some time and planning. The park was the perfect venue with the ability to handle even the longer 5k (3.1 miles) course.
The high school course featured 99 percent grass, with the middle school course a little less difficult with around 50 percent on grass. The courses both were measured, marked and ready for competition at 8 a.m. After the National Anthem, performed as usual with a recording from Marco Island’s own Jennifer Raymond-Warren, the races began.
The high school girls took to the course and very quickly a two-runner race took place at the front. Sarah Smith of Seacrest took the early lead with Carla Mateo of Gateway Charter in pursuit. Smith held the lead for nearly half the race when Mateo turned on the jets and ran to a nearly 400 meter win in 23:21 over the difficult course. MIA’s own Victoria Vale raced to a ninth place finish in her first cross country race. Only two of the teams that started the race could keep the mandated runners to score as a team, with Golden Gate prevailing and taking home the trophy.
The high school boys raced next and the pace was quick at the outset. At the mid-point it was a three-man race, featuring Alyx Gonzales of Gateway, Andrew LeMan of Seacrest, and Manuel Martinez of Golden Gate. Gonzales and LeMan entered the last 200 meters neck and neck. LeMan slipped with one hundred meters to go and Gonzales took the lead and raced to a two second win in 18:17. Golden Gate placed three runners in the top five and took home the hardware with an outstanding low score of 30 points to Gateway’s 78 points. Low score wins in cross country. Five of the starting seven teams finished with five runners. This included all seven of MIA’s runners. Leading the way for the MIA Manta Rays was freshman Peter Servente with a time of 22:08, which landed him a 14th place finish.
The girls middle school race came next and featured some really good teams. Marco Island (MICMS) entered as one of the teams to beat, led by Rosie Poling. Poling is the defending champion at 3000 meters from last year’s county track meet where she set the middle school county record. She left little doubt as to her ability, leading from the first meter to the end.
She crossed the finish line 1 minute and 11 seconds ahead of second place Hannah Sparacio of First Baptist Academy (FBA) who ran under 13minutes, which is outstanding. Poling’s winning time was 11:48. The Eagles could not capture their second straight Eagle Invitational, but were able to finish in a very nice third. With so many young runners this was an outstanding result. The Eagles have no eighth grade runners this season. Gulfview Middle (GVM) and North Naples (NNM) battled for the top spot. NNM prevailed by placing four runners in the top 18 and finished with 62 points to GVM’s 92.
Charter School’s Kelsey Halaschak raced to 24th, Maddie Bonfitto, 31st, Julia Cartright, 32nd, Adriana Marroquin, 54th and Sydney Lundquis, 55th. The Eagles will improve as the year progresses and will get another chance at the county meet in October.
The boys middle school race figured to be a shoot out between Manatee (MMS) and defending Eagle Invitational champion North Naples (NNM).
This was the case, although Oasis Middle (OCM) came to run as well. The Eagles were minus three of their top five runners and were not expected to challenge the top schools on this day In the end, MMS was too strong. They placed runners in first, third and fifth, recording a very low score of 31 points. NNM edged out OCH for second by four points 61 to 65. Bobby Garcia ran home in 10:33 for the win, although the top three were only separated by a scant 23 seconds. Eleven teams scored in the race, with the locals capturing an outstanding eighth place with a very young team. Newcomer Santiago Ruiz paced the locals with a 12th place finish in 11:48.
The next action for MICMS is this Wednesday at Manatee Middle, beginning at 5 p.m. Marco Academy will travel to Mariner High School on Saturday for the Triton Invitational.