November 14, 2020
On Saturday morning, the East Ridge High School girls cross country season came to an end with the conclusion of the Class 4A State Championships at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. The meet was a showcase of all of the elite female runners in the entire state of Florida. For East Ridge High School, the state meet has seldom become a reality for individuals and teams throughout its history. In fact, prior to this season, only two other individual females and just one team has qualified for the state meet in the school’s history. More than that, it had been fifteen years since the school last had an individual female qualifier for the state meet – Kelsey Arellano in 2005. It was 2011 when East Ridge’s only girls cross country team in the school’s history qualified for the state meet. However, the school’s history turned a different direction, as East Ridge’s Mackenzie Hill earned a qualifying spot at the state championships this season!
The venue for the state championships was Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. The park has a challenging cross country course with a diversity of terrains and undulating hills. About half of the course is grass, which has some flat straightaways and some gradual downhills. The other half of the course is tightly packed gravel on sand, and it features a lengthy uphill that runners must complete twice within the course. Runners get a scenic view through some wooded areas and spectators and coaches get multiple great views of their athletes with the course’s two loops. In the middle of the loop is a cut-through for coaches and spectators to move along in order to see their athletes five different times throughout the race. The venue definitely made for a beautiful, but challenging, cross country course.
Girls from sixteen different state-qualifying schools and a dozen qualifying individuals competed Saturday morning in the Class 4A State Championships. The girls race went off at 10:20 AM. Assigned in box 25 just right of the center of the starting line, East Ridge’s Mackenzie Hill took a few minutes to stretch, take some sips of water, and do some stride-outs. Then, the official called the runners to their marks, and fired the starting pistol. With that, Mackenzie along with 125 other elite runners took off across the grassy straightaway, heading straight into a glaring sun!
The large field of runners made their way down the straightaway in a tight pack. The field of runners narrowed quickly, and it was difficult to pick out individual runners. Mackenzie was spotted in the middle of the pack amidst a crowd of runners. That crowd did not dissipate quickly, in fact, rounding mile one, a lot of that group was still intact. Hill was clocked at a speedy 6:11 for the first mile and was spotted in 80th place at that point in the race. In the second mile, runners began to settle in, and paces tended to normalize. Additionally, nearing the halfway point and the end of the first loop is a gradual incline. It was there where Hill was able to separate herself from the group, and make some headway in the large field of runners.
Hill was clocked at 13:07 at the two-mile mark, and had been spotted in 62nd place – an improvement in her positioning by eighteen spots. From the two-mile mark to the finish, approximately 1.10 miles, the large field of runners put everything that was left in them out on that course. Approaching the gradual uphill for the second and final time can be daunting for runners, but once they make that final left turn with about 600 meters left in the race, strides lengthen, the arms pump more furiously, and the competition intensifies. Hill was able to overcome the daunting terrain and retain her positioning. Dropping just two positions in her third mile, Hill sped across the grassy straightaway into the finishing chute in a time of 20:58, and placing 64th overall out of a field of 126 elite runners!
Mackenzie’s finishing time is the second fastest time at the state meet in East Ridge High School’s nineteen-year history! Mackenzie is also the only female cross country runner to qualify for the state meet since East Ridge High School moved up in classification from 3A to 4A. Class 4A is the highest classification for cross country in the state of Florida and includes the largest schools in the state. East Ridge moved from class 3A to class 4A in 2013. In addition to her performance at the state meet, Mackenzie had a host of other accomplishments in her senior year. Mackenzie was the first finisher for East Ridge High School in each of the meets she competed in throughout the season. She medaled in eight meets, was runner up at the Frostproof Invitational, and was the individual champion at the JT Memorial Race. Mackenzie placed fifth in the district race and seventh in the regional race this season. Her fastest performance came at the regional meet, where she set a career personal best time of 20:01 – making Mackenzie one of the most accomplished and decorated runners in East Ridge’s history!
Plant High School won the state championship by placing three girls in the top twenty-five. Newsome High School was the state runner up. Timber Creek’s Amber Schulz was the Class 4A individual champion and finished in a time of 18:26.
For full results from the Class 4A State Championships visit https://fhsaa.com/documents/2020/11/14//4AGirls.pdf?id=852.