Here’s how Big Bend cross country runners are feeling a month away from states at Apalachee Regional – Tallahassee Democrat

Here’s how Big Bend cross country runners are feeling a month away from states at Apalachee Regional  Tallahassee Democrat

While the FHSAA State Championships are a little less than a month away, Apalachee Regional Park was the epicenter of Florida high school cross country. Runners from Pensacola to Jacksonville to Miami descended upon the nationally acclaimed course, getting a taste of the state course before the actual big-time race. 

Apalachee isn’t the easiest course according to many, offering a variating terrain and a large hill simply known as “the wall”. However, runners in the Big Bend have held an advantage calling the state championship course home. A handful of area runners had high placements, and some even won their races. 

The countdown to states has begun and the FSU Invitational gave area runners some perspective before the big meet. Here’s how Big Bend cross country runners are feeling a month away from states back at Apalachee Regional. 

Patrick Koon, Leon 


Since he emerged onto the high school scene last season, Leon sophomore Patrick Koon has taken the cross country world by storm. At his last race prior to the FSU Invitational, Koon broke his personal best with a time of 15:05 at the Fall World Spectacular.

Koon said he knew that he was going to get a stronger time at that meet just because of how flat the course was. On Saturday, he knew it was going to be a different result just of how different Apalachee is from any other course. 

“That was a much faster course than this one just because it was all flat,” Koon said. “This past week, where we’ve had no races, I’ve just focused on getting my training back to a good point and grinding it out. In a couple of weeks, starting to get ready for the state meet.” 

Despite a course adjustment, Koon remained unfazed. He won the elite boys race with an unofficial time of 15:09.08, building a wide lead between himself and second place. It isn’t his personal best time, but it’s his best finish on the Apalachee Course, which may be a sign of good things to come. 

“I’m a little tired now, but my legs are back up under me and I’m fine now,” Koon said following his finish. “It was defiantly a hard race. I gave it all I had.” 

Koon did talk of the importance of tackling “the wall”. It’s a large hill in the course, with a steep incline, that runners have to scale twice. He said that he was able to get up it pretty quickly the first time, but stung a bit the second time. Either way, Koon said he’s happy with his time after not tapering for the event and is looking forward to returning to the course in November. 

“It certainly great to get a good time out here,” Koon said. “We didn’t taper for this and I wasn’t too well rested, well I was a little bit, but to be able to run a fast time is a good feeling knowing I’ll be well-rested coming on later in the season.” 

Ben Kirbo, Chiles 

Not far behind Koon was Chiles senior Ben Kirbo, who took fifth place in the elite boys race with a time of 5:23.90. The Timberwolves have a different plan of attack when it comes to Apalachee, training through Saturday’s meet and waiting to taper the course until state comes around. 

“My legs are a little tired, but it was a good race for the team and a good pump up for state to get our legs ready for this course,” Kirbo said. “I want to try to stick with the front pack better for state and just keep dropping the times on this course.” 

To begin a senior runner from the Big Bend, Kirbo has learned a lot about the course and how to finish with a strong time on it. According to Kirbo getting a boost with 600 meters left in the race is key to getting a strong finish. That eventually leads to having a lead before “the wall” where runners will be trying to pass there. 

Having that in mind, the Kirbo and the Timberwolves are zeroed in on speed training leading up to state now having some distance training under their belts. 

“We’ve been training our distance with high mileage, so know we’re looking to get our speed up,” Kirbo said. “Now we’re going to start tapering and getting our speed workout for state.” 

A personal goal that Kirbo has, that running so much at Apalachee can help with, is running at the next level in college. Apalachee is the home course for Florida State and is hosting the 2021 NCAA National Championships. Kirbo said he believes getting stronger times on a nationally recognized course will help give him some attention when it comes to recruiting. 

“I love to get every opportunity to get to run on this course,” Kirbo said. “It’s a well-recognized course. Some are really fast and officials sometimes don’t trust it, and when you go to college they call it an asterisk course. But this is a recognized course around the country. If you can run fast here, people know you can run fast anywhere.” 

Kelly Davis, Chiles 


In the select girls race, Chiles senior Kelly Davis edged out teammate senior Ella Hodges, finishing in 16th place with a time of 19:47.60. Hodges was right behind Davis, finishing in 18th with a time of 19:57.00. The two have been back and forth throughout the entire season, and Davis said she enjoys the friendly rivalry.

“It’s been really good to push each other,” Davis said. “When we push each other, we can keep PRing each week.” 

Davis did finish with a season-best time and Hodges finished four seconds behind her PR this season. Chiles has had some experience running on this course earlier this season but in the midst of the August heat. With some cooler weather in place and some more training, Davis said she’s feeling good about this finish and states coming up. 

“I haven’t run here in a few weeks, so it feels good to have a good race out here and a good experience before state,” Davis said. “The race was a lot faster since we have more training under our belt and better training since it’s not as hot anymore. It’s good to have that confidence booster.” 

The biggest thing that Davis is taking away from her finish, and her team’s finish on Saturday, is just the confidence it gives all of them in this stretch to state. Chiles saw solid finishes across the board and now has even more of an idea of what they want to train for come November. 

“It’s just a big confidence booster knowing that we can have a strong finish at state,” Davis said. “We’re looking to do some more speed work and getting a good kick.” 

Clayton Knox, Maclay 

Recording one of the widest margins of victory on the day was Maclay junior Clayton Knox, who won the varsity A boys race with a time of 16:44.20. Not only did he set a personal record in the finish but crossed the finish line 25 seconds ahead of second place. 

“It was a great breakthrough race,” Knox said. “Over the summer, my training wasn’t the best because I was sick a lot, but then I started hitting hard. This was the first time it really started to pay off.” 

Similar to his counterparts all across the Big Bend, Knox said his familiarity with the course was what gave him the edge in the end. Knox said that he’s been out on Apalachee longer than anyone else in his race. Once again, similar to his Big Bend counterparts, knowing the terrain is important in having a strong finish. 

“Taking advantage of the downhills, along with the uphills is important,” Knox said. “It’s key to run the hills and know the course.” 

Saturday was a big victory not just for Knox on the course, but mentally as well. After having a rougher offseason, he said that his finish taught him that trusting in the process will eventually pay off. Now with a strong finish on the state course, Knox said he’s zeroed in on states coming up. 

“Not every race is going to be a great race, but you’ve just got to keep on putting in the work and just wait for the opportunity to come,” Knox said. “Now my head’s in the game for state and I’m ready.” 

Elite boys

18. Wyatt Townsend (Chiles) 15:48

32. Jake Rogers (Leon) 16:13 

67. Filippo Reina (Chiles) 16:38 

Elite girls 

18. Susan Gracie Koeppel (Maclay) 19:05 

25. Lillee Tang (Leon) 19:21 

40. Mary Clayton Soto (Maclay) 19:50

50. Stella Lewis (Leon) 20:04 

63. Lillian Koeppel (Maclay) 20:18

78. Kassidy Moninger (Maclay) 20:31

Girls select 

41. Isabella Laughton (Wakulla) 20:45

51. Alyssa Cooper (Chiles) 20:53 

56. Marina Whitsell (Wakulla) 21:02

61. Liliana Lewis (Wakulla) 21:17 

83. Taylor Pfeifer (Wakulla) 21:43 

Varsity A boys 

17. Joseph McLeod (Lincoln) 17:48 

26. Carter Rothell (Maclay) 18:01 

64. David Morrison (Lincoln) 18:34 

69. Jaden Callaghan (Wakulla) 18:36 

98. Ben Bergstresser (Lincoln) 19:02 

100. Nathan Morris (Chiles) 19:03 

Varsity A girls 

6. Niya Coleman (Florida High) 20:45

24.  Teresa Meli (Community Christian) 22:06 

66. Leah Keller (Florida High) 23:39 

67. Sophia Youngberg (Lincoln) 23:40 

71. Leah Boutwell (Florida High) 23:47 

82. Katherine Bouck (Community Christian) 24:00 

86. Sarah Kate Costello (Community Christian) 24:04 

87. NyAshia Wright (Lincoln) 24:05 

89.  Elizabeth Kessler (Lincoln) 24:08 

90. Aza Hampton (Lincoln) 24:09 

*Full meet results can be found at flrunners.com.

Jack Williams covers prep sports for Tallahassee Democrat. Contact him via email at jwilliams@tallahassee.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or over phone at 701-270-1075.