WATCH: Highlight reel of high school athletes competing in the FSU Invitational at Apalachee Regional Park on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.
Apalachee Regional Park was once again filled with the sights of school colors and the sounds of running shoes crunching the terrain as a host of athletes raced in the FSU Invitational.
College programs competed on Friday morning, while high schoolers were the stars of the show on Saturday.
The celebrated two-day meet marked the first running event in the area since the onset of the coronavirus. It was well-received with grand fanfare from officials, coaches and the race participants.
On the preps level, several local runners earned high rankings.
In the Elite Boys Division, Chiles placed third behind Miami schools, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and Christopher Columbus High.
Junior Ben Kirbo recorded the fastest time for the Timberwolves at 15:49.7.
“Today (Saturday), I’m in the moment. I’m glad of what we pulled off as a team,” Kirbo said.
“The first mile on this course is a fast one. After the first mile, I started to break away. Then, after the two miles, I came fast. By that time, I was on my own. The last mile, It slowed down a bit. When I was finished, I was dead. But I came in with the time I wanted.”
Kirbo’s training leading up to this race was vastly different than what he’s accustomed to. During the offseason, the athletes ran earlier in the morning and used social distancing. There was an adjustment of pacing. However, he cited this paid off this weekend.
“I think the shutdown in the spring helped a lot of runners,” Kirbo said. “Everyone got a kit if running in. we spaced it up more, so we ‘ren running a group. We’ve managed to keep up with our training.”
WATCH: Chiles junior Ben Kirbo discusses his team-leading performance at the FSU Invitational on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020 at Apalachee Regional Park.
Rounding out the area teams were Maclay (6th), Leon High (9th) and Lincoln (12th).
Leon High finished third in the Girls Elite Division. Senior Lillian Unger posted the fastest time for the Lions at 19:16.1.
Maclay ranked seventh.
The Varsity Boys Division featured six teams from the Big Bend recording top-10 finishes – Chiles (5th), Wakulla (6th), Christian Community School (8th), Florida HIgh (9th) and Lincoln (10th).
Simon Cole of Wakulla was the top area finisher at 17:12.9, ninth overall.
For the girls, Wakulla, Chiles, Christian Community School, Lincoln and Florida High placed one through five, respectively. Kelly Davis of Chiles at 20:09.1 placed first overall.
High school cross country runners compete in the 2020 FSU Invitational meet at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020. (Photo: Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat)
Inside the Numbers
This weekend’s meet served a boost of confidence from an athletics and economic standpoint.
Local officials estimate the financial impact at $500,000. This total is half of the typical average funding. The decrease in attendees and revenue is linked to the pandemic.
Several teams didn’t make the trip to Tallahassee due to their discontinuance of participating in fall sports.
Hotel chains on Apalachee Parkway provided lodging for visitors. The nearby restaurants also benefited from the slight spike in out-of-towners who came to Tallahassee.
“COVID-19 changed things for us this year. But we were still honored to host this event. We were very pleased with the turnout. We ended up with about 1,000 runners over the past two days. They complied with the things we had in place. We appreciate all the teams that made the trip to Tallahassee,” said Amanda Heidecker, Senior Director Of Sales & Sports at Visit Tallahassee.
“It’s not as big as it usually is, but right now, all of our hotels and restaurants are excited to get the business. We’ll have the state meet in a month. This will help get the economy running in Tallahassee. Our job is to bring heads to beds.”
The FSU women captured the team title in Friday’s 5K event, while the men finished third in the 8K race at Apalachee Regional Park in the college division of the FSU Invitational.
The Seminoles won the event for the first time since 2017, tallying 38 points ahead of Alabama (51) in second and Georgia Tech (97) in third, which defeated FSU two weeks ago at the Mountain Dew Invite in Gainesville.
The men’s team took on the day without a few key runners due to injury, but still battled to finish in third place with a total of 74 points behind Georgia (56) and Georgia Tech (73). Florida was fourth (96) and LSU took fifth (127).
The Seminoles were carried by junior Addi Coggins (16:59.8), freshman Alyson Churchill (17:04.9) and sophomore Rebecca Clark (17:04.9). They finished in fourth, fifth and sixth place, respectively.
For the men, FSU was led by redshirt freshman Gabriel Curtis (24:11.9) and junior Paul Stafford (24:23.3). They ran together for most of the race, finishing in the third and fourth place.
Sophomore Mat Maier set a school record in the 8K to lead Tallahassee Community College’s men’s cross country team to an eighth-place ranking. Maier bested the previous school record by 17 seconds, crossing the stripe in 27:52.9, good for 36th overall.
Follow sportswriter Rory Sharrock on Twitter @married2game1.
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