Jesuit sophomore Andy Biladeau is fast. He has run a 5-kilometer race in 15 minutes, 30 seconds, the fifth-fastest time in the state this year for all classifications. He could easily win an individual title Saturday at the state meet.
Clearwater Central Catholic senior Kevin Lyons is fast. He has run a 5-kilometer race in 15:45, the ninth-fastest time in the state this year for all classifications. He could easily win an individual state title Saturday.
Jacksonville Bishop Kenny senior Ryder Leary is fast. He has run a 5-kilometer race in 15:23 this year, the fourth-fastest time in the state for all classifications. He could easily win an individual state title Saturday.
The problem is two of them will leave the Ed Radice Sports Complex on Saturday without the title they have trained for and dreamed about all year. Their quandary could turn out to be a cross-country fan's delight.
Biladeau, Lyons and Leary will come together in the Class 2A boys championship, a head-to-head matchup that has the potential to be one of the greatest races in a long time.
Three runners, all with the ability to run within a second of each other, in the biggest race of the season. Adding a little intrigue is the fact that while they've read about each other and seen each other race, the three haven't competed in the same race this year and each isn't entirely sure what the other is going to do.
"I think it will definitely be one of the best races in recent memory," Biladeau said. "I think that everybody wants to see a really fast time, but even if the times aren't that fast, this will prove who's the best. I don't think who wins will have run the race people want to see, they will have run the kind of race it took to win."
The closest Lyons, Leary and Biladeau came to running in the same race this season was in the Pre-State Meet at Ed Radice last month. That night, Lyons ran in the boys varsity race while Leary and Biladeau fought it out in the elite division.
The Jesuit sophomore won that night, beating Leary by six seconds to avenge a four-second loss the previous week at the Deja Vu Classic in Jacksonville.
The past two weeks would have been prime momentum-building weeks for Lyons and Biladeau, who compete in the same district and region. But Jesuit coach Mike Boza used those two meets to continue training for the state meet and Biladeau ran as part of a seven-runner Jesuit pack, concentrating on tempo rather than winning.
Lyons easily won both meets by more than a minute, which has done nothing but whet the appetite of race fans around the state.
"That's their plan," Lyons said. "It's not something that I would have necessarily have done myself, not race for three weeks, but we'll see if that works in his favor or in my favor."
Said Biladeau: "I'm really excited to have an opportunity for me to really have a good race and show everybody what I'm made of. As good as my training has gone lately I think Saturday will be my best race."
Lyons and Biladeau did meet unofficially a few weeks ago for a 2-mile run on the track at Jesuit during halftime of a football game. Biladeau wowed the home crowd by finishing his eight laps in 9 minutes, 16 seconds. Lyons came through in 9:25.
Now the key is going to be figuring out the best strategy to not only complete the race in a timely fashion but to do so in such a way the other two runners can't help but be chasing.
When it comes to strategy, nobody's willing to talk just yet.
"I have no clue what to expect," Leary said. "You've got three guys, or at least Kevin and Andy, who are great runners with plenty of race experience. Andy Biladeau is one of the toughest runners I've ever met. I'm just going to race the competition."
Added Lyons: "I think it's going to be whoever runs the smartest race. From what I've seen of (Leary), he likes to take the pace out pretty hard and I figure if he does that then Andy will go with him. That's not usually the way I like to run so I don't know what's going to happen. That's the advantage and the disadvantage. They don't know where I am and I don't know where they are."