By Roy Fuoco
LAKELAND — George Jenkins sophomore Alicia Ruiz nearly didn’t run cross country this season as her main focus is track. She decided to run just as the season was about to begin, and now she has the third-best girls time in Polk County history.
Ruiz ran 18:27.64 on Saturday to finish seventh in the girls race of champions at the Flrunners.com Invitational at Holloway Park.
Ruiz’s time was a personal record and she now just trails Lake Region’s Sydney Devore (18:20) and Jenkins teammate Anna Sentner (18:24.80) on the all-time list.
“I felt good during the whole race, so I thought why not try to stick with them (leaders),” Ruiz said. “It felt good with people in the big leagues.”
Ruiz had injured her hip late in the track season but was feeling good over the summer.
Ruiz’s time put her in position to take aim at the county record.
“I would have to say yes (she has a chance) because of what she ran on this course” Jenkins coach Dale Meskimen said.
Sentner is still looking to regain her form from last year as she has matured since last year, but she still ran the second-best time of any Polk runner in the various divisions. Sentner ran 19:29 to finish 23rd.
“She’s running well,” Meskimen said. “I’m not displeased with her with where she’s at right not at all. I know she’s beating herself up, but I’m trying to get her to not beat herself up.”
The Eagles finished eighth out of 23 teams in the toughest girls division of the meet. Six of the Jenkins’ runners ran either a personal-best time or a season-best time.
“ Overall, I’m pleased where we are right now,” Meskimen said.
George Jenkins senior Brady Zimmerman ran a course personal record of 16:33.73 to finish 12th in the boys race of champions.
Zimmerman’s time was just seven seconds shy of careerbest time of 16:26 that he ran earlier this season.
“I went out fast, and I think my third mile was just too relaxed,” he said. “I was on pace for a really low 16 mark. It was my first race with a lot of competition, so I’m really happy with it.”
The Eagles finished 15th out of 25 teams in the division.
Frostproof freshman Cristal Gomez ran 20:08.56 to finish third in the girls invitational division. Gabriella Rybinski finished eighth in 20:36.70 as the Bulldogs were 14th out of 36 teams.
Bartow sophomore Autumn Martin ran 22:38.77 to finish fourth, and Lakeland senior Emma Moses ran 23:19 to finish 10th to lead Polk County runners in the girls unseeded race.
Moses wasn’t the fastest Lakeland girls runner. Teammate Sophie Valenti
ran in the race of champions and finished 47th out of 217 runners with a time of 20:27.19.
Ridge Community junior Gabrielle Haines finished 13th in 23:56.63 to lead the Bolts to a seventh-place finish in the team competition in the girls unseeded. Lake Region was eighth, and Bartow and Lakeland finished 10th and 11th respectively out of 16 teams in the division.
In the boys unseeded race, Bartow’s Jacob Nakamura ran 18:25.93 to finish fifth and lead the Yellow Jackets to a sixth-place finish in the team competition. Teammate Drake Turner also cracked the top 25 by finishing 24th in 19:54.96.
Winter Haven junior Mario Tullis took 14th in 19:00.53.
Lake Wales’ Updike edges teammate at Don Bishop
Lake Wales sophomore Mac Updike ran a personalrecord 16:15.4 to win the Don Bishop Invitational in Brandon.
Denton’s time is the best time in the county this year. Teammate Andy Denton, who had held the best county time this year with a 16:22, finished second in 16:26.9.
The Highlanders placed all five runners in the top 10 to easily win the team competition.