Class 4A cross country primer
When: Saturday. Class 4A girls race, 7:55 a.m.; boys, 8:45 a.m.
Where: Apalachee Regional Park, Tallahassee
Front-runners: The top Hillsborough County teams and best chance for an individual title are in this class.
Breaking down Class 4A: The Wharton girls led by Alisha Deschenes looked the most formidable heading into regionals. The Wildcats won the Hillsborough County meet and a brutal 4A-6 district. At regionals, Newsome (which is not in 4A-6) had the best team finish, taking second with 104 points. Wharton was third with 112.
As a testament to how solid these teams are, of the top six qualifying spots from 4A Region 2, Hillsborough teams took four of them. Same deal on the boys side with Steinbrenner, Newsome, Bloomingdale and Plant taking four of the six spots.
It's unlikely any will press for a title though. Sarasota easily out-distanced the field, boys and girls, at regionals. And Winter Park’s girls, and the St. Thomas Aquinas and Lyman boys are also front-runners for team titles. Still, Hillsborough County could jam a handful of teams into the top 10.
Individually, look no farther than Riverview sophomore Bailey Hertenstein. Hertenstein is undisputedly the best female cross country runner in the county, having won districts, county and regionals. She had the best time of any female runner of the three regions that ran at Holloway Park last Saturday. The obstacle? Hertenstein competes in the toughest classification for girls in the state. Four of the top five marks for girls cross country this season all reside in Class 4A.
Winter Park's Rafaella Gibbons, the defending 4A champ, has a jaw-dropping 17:27.15 from regionals. Aquinas' Alexa Cruz was third at last year's meet, Fletcher's Kayley Delay was fourth and Lake Mary's Daniela Urzua was eighth. Each of them have a sub 18-minute mark from this season, a feat Hertenstein has yet to duplicate. Still, Hertenstein has a knack for rising to the occasion.
She has won every meet she has competed in this season, including the huge Flrunners Invite in Titusville in September. Hertenstein's 18:02.4 was her personal best and was 13 seconds ahead of a field that included five region champions and one defending state title holder. Hertenstein has used the Flrunners Invite as a confidence booster all season, so expect her to press the very front on Saturday.
The boys side might not have a title contender but that's no reason to take your eyes off of Durant's Haftom Fliegelman or Sickles' Paris Williams. The two traded off beating each other at county and regionals. Fliegelman was second behind Sarasota's Adam Bradtmueller at regionals.
Again, 4A is the real meat-grinder class, even for the boys with the top eight times all under 16 minutes. Williams and Fleigelman have yet to crack 16 but should break into the top 10. Fleigelman looked very strong coming across the finish at regionals.
Beyond Williams and Fliegelman, there's a cluster of area runners that have a shot at the top 10. Rob Leverone and Quasan Markowski helped the Plant boys win the Hillsborough County title. Wiregrass Ranch’s Joey Salerno (sixth at regionals) will be the only Pasco County runner at the meet. Steinbrenner's Ian Campbell helped the Warrior boys take second at regionals.