Senior Joel Jean and sophomore Lailana Decker put on dominating performances to claim Orange Belt Conference boys’ and girls’ individual cross country championships at St. Cloud High School on Wednesday afternoon.
Jean, who finished second to graduated Celebration senior Jared Falchook the last two seasons, ran to an easy victory in 16:26.08 –defeating second place finisher Evan Amaya of Celebration by more than 22 seconds (16:48.39).
“I waited two long years to finally win this,” Jean said. “I was able to breakaway fairly early and when I am able to do that I seem to relax and just concentrate on my stride. My goals though are still in front of me, I want to get into the 15s (breaking 16 minutes) because I know that will be required in order to get to states.”
Decker’s win on the girls’ side was equally impressive. Her time of 19:50.75 easily outdistanced Celebration’s Gabriella DeCesare (20:42.22) and 2022 individual winner Catalina Edwards (21:19.33). “I was able to pull away at around the two-mile mark,” Decker said. “It was a comfortable run for me and I just put it in cruise control. The important thing is to keep peaking for the post-season.”
Overall, Celebration’s girls put three runners in the top 10 and five scoring runners in the top 15 to record a 43-53 win over Harmony and break the Longhorn’s four-year reign as OBC Champions. In addition to DeCesare and Edwards, the Storm got counting efforts from Marissa McNiell (9th-23:18.73), Piper Morgan (14th-24:14.49) and Shayma Maldar (15th-24:20.56).
“Harmony always has a good team and we enjoy competing against them, but it really feels good to get past them for the title,” Storm girls coach David Rains said. “This championship is because of a total team effort and a testament to all the hard work our girls have put in all season.”
The Storm appeared headed to a sweep of the team titles with an apparent 45-46 win over Tohopekaliga on the boys’ side. However a runner from another school ended up being disqualified from the meet when he advertently ran a loop in the race in the wrong direction. That disqualification moved Tohopekaliga’s Darwin Vega up one position in the race to 17th and that position reduced Tohopekaliga’s final team score to 45 – tying Celebration.
Under scoring rules, ties are broken by the overall finish of each team’s sixth runner. Tohopekaliga’s Marc Rodriguez (18th place overall) was six places higher than Celebration’s sixth place runner Matias Edwards (24) to secure the team title for Harmony.
It was second straight year that Celebration was denied the team title by a tie breaker. Last season, Matt Fenn’s team won just the second OBC Team Championship in school history when the Tigers tied for with Celebration for the team title with 34 points. In that tiebreaker, the next Tohopekaliga runner crossed the line before the next Celebration runner did to secure the team title.
“Given the amount of talent we lost last year to graduation, we’re happy to repeat as OBC Champions, but we certainly feel for Celebration. A disqualification, that had nothing to do with a runner from either team, benefitted us,” Tohopekaliga boys coach Matt Fenn said. “They certainly have every right to feel like champions too. The thing I am most encouraged about is the gap between our top two runners and the next three continues to shrink and that will help us as we get to the post-season.”
Next up for county runners are the FHSAA District meets on Saturday, Oct. 22. Osceola will host the Class 4A, District 5 meet that will include Tohopekaliga, Celebration, Harmony, Poinciana and St.Cloud.
Gateway and Liberty runners will participate in Class 3A, District 3 meet at Winter Springs High School.
2022 Orange Belt Conference Cross Country Championships
St. Cloud High School – 5000 Meter Course
Boys: 1. Tohopekaliga 45*, 2. Celebration 45, 3. Harmony 87, 4. Poinciana 103, 5. Gateway 130, 6. St. Cloud 164, 7. Liberty 186, 8. Osceola 215. *Won team title based on tie breaker. All-Conference: 1. Joel Jean (H) 16:26.08; 2. Evan Amaya (C) 16:48.39; 3. Zaniel Lizardo (T) 17:00.26; 4. Javan Medina (T) 17:06.28; 5. Levi Lee (P) 17:20.89; 6. Johan Comacho (T) 17:35.57; 7. Cooper James (C) 17:43.39; 8. Gabriel Arce (P) 17:51.41.
Girls: 1. Celebration 43, 2. Harmony 53, 3. St. Cloud 80, 4. Tohopekaliga 107, 5. Osceola 109, 6. Gateway 127, 7. Liberty (No Team Score). All-Conference: Leilana Decker (H) 19:50.75; 2. Gabriella DeCesare (C) 20:42.22; 3. Catalina Edwards (C) 21:19.33; 4. Mia Gonzalez-Nunez (O) 21:20.96; 5. Nicole Salcedo (O) 21:22.55; 6. Isabella Halk (G) 22.58.15; 7. Kaitlyn Harkema (SC) 23:09.84; 8. Naomi Polete-Ortiz (T) 23:17.07