By:  J. Daniel Pearson for Positively Osceola

Tohopekaliga placed three runners in the top five on Wednesday afternoon to win their third consecutive Orange Belt Conference championship, but in somewhat of a surprise finish – the Celebration girls upended long-time powers Harmony and St. Cloud to take their first OBC title in school history.

It was an extremely impressive showing of the depth and the overall program that Coach Mathew Fenn is building at Tohopekaliga.  The Tigers placed three runners in the top six in winning last year’s championship but lost all three to graduation.   Despite the key losses, Tohopekaliga saw Nikolas Boone (2nd-17:05), Jared Lopez (3rd-17:27) and Marc Rodriguez (5th-17:33) all step up and garner top five placements in this year’s meet to win the team title handily.  

The strong performance of the top three was capped by a ninth place finish by Cameron Ford (17:53) and a tenth place finish by Anthoney Allen (18:00), as the Tigers totaled 29 team points to easily out-distance second place St. Cloud (72) and third place Celebration (79).

“I really proud of the effort of these kids,” Fenn said.  “We had a lot of really big shoes to fill this year with the departing seniors from last year.  The guys have worked hard all year and have gotten better every week but I still believe we are a work in progress and the best is still to come.”

Individually, Poinciana junior Levi Lee captured his first Orange Belt Conference cross country title – outracing Boone to the line.  Lee, who finished fifth last year, was slightly behind with 300 yards to go but turned it on at the end to win in a time 17:02.53 – about three seconds faster than Boone over the 5,000-meter course at Austin Tindall Park.

“I felt if I ran my best race I would be happy with a top three, but I was up near the front the whole way and just fought through the pain,” Lee said.

St. Cloud placed two runners on the OBC All-Conference team in Silas Corchado (4th-17:31) and freshman Brody Ansbaugh, who took seventh in 17:49.   Rounding out the All-OBC team was Gateway’s Xavier Rivera-Melendez (6th-17:39) and Harmony’s Anakin Barbour (8th-17:49).

The distant future also looks bright for the Tigers, as Tohopekaliga – led by first place finisher Baldwin Batista — swept the top five spots to record a perfect team score of 15 in winning the junior varsity OBC Championship.

From 2010-17, St. Cloud won every girls OBC cross country championship contested and then was replaced by Harmony – who won five straight from 2018 through last year.   So it was a bit of a surprise to see Celebration on top of the podium this year.

Although Harmony junior Lailana Decker easily cruised to her second consecutive individual championship, the Storm used its depth to take home its first team title in school history.  Claire Reburn (2nd-20:54), Evelyn Juden (6th-22:13), and Carly Robins (8th-22:26) earned All-OBC honors and Marissa MacNeill (9th) and Serena Santiago (12th) posted high finishes for the Storm (37); to edge St. Cloud (46) for the team title.

Decker’s teammate Cadence  Edwards joined her on the All-OBC team; while St. Cloud placed two runners on the team in Kyla Perez (3rd-2:21.22) and Allison Sandoval (4th-2:21.97); and Tohopekaliga had one All-OBC runner in Naomi Polete-Ortiz (22.33).

“The past couple of years we have been in the hunt,” Storm coach David Rains said.  “We sort of felt that if we got solid performances from one through five we would have a chance to win this year and that’s pretty much what happened.  The top three or four teams have been bunched together in this county, I just proud and happy that our girls were able to come out on top this year.” 

Tohopekaliga was a close third in the team race (57); followed by Tohopekaliga (119), Gateway (119) and Osceola (150).

Decker continues to build an impressive resume in both cross country and track.  She finished second at the OBC Championships as a freshman and her winning time of 20:11.32 was more than 32 seconds faster than Reburn’s second place time.

“It was a great day to run, not too hot or humid,” Decker said of her win.  “I got out front early just tried to keep up with the pace cart.  I probably would have liked to run a little faster, but all things considered I was pleased with the race.”

Harmony’s Naomi Baker won the OBC girls’ junior varsity race.

Nine more days remain in the regular season for tune-up meets, before the start of District competition.  The boys and girls teams from Celebration, Tohopekaliga, Harmony, Poinciana, and St. Cloud all compete in Class 4A, District 5 and will run in that 17-team meet on Saturday, Nov. 4.  The girls championship will start at 7:30 a.m.; with the boys race starting at 8:20 a.m. The top eight teams qualify for districts.

OBC Final Results

  • 5000 Meters at Austin Tindall Park
  • Girls (Team Scores):  Celebration 37, St. Cloud 46, Harmony 57, Tohopekaliga 119, Gateway 119, Osceola 190
  • Girls All Conference:  Lailana Decker (H) 20:11.32; Claire Reburn ( C) 20:54.32; Kyla Perez (SC) 21:28.32; Allison Sandoval (SC) 21:28.97; Cadence Edwards (H) 21:40.65; Evelyn Juden (C) 22:18.18; Naomi Polete-Ortiz (T) 22: 33.48; Carly Robbins (C) 22:36.99
  • Boys (Team Scores):  Tohopekaliga 29, St. Cloud 72, Celebration 79, Harmony 110, Gateway 112, Poinciana 116
  • Boys All Conference: Levi Lee (P) 17:02.53; Nikolas Boone (T) 17:05.10; Jared Lopez (T) 17:22.11; Silas Corchado (SC) 17:31.45; Marc Rodriguez (T) 17:33.46; Xavier Rivera-Melendez (G) 17:39.88; Brody Ansbaugh (SC) 17:49.48; Anakin Barbour (H) 17:49.69.