Coach Keara McGraw and the second-place Key West girls cross country team show off their hardware after the first meet of the season.

Friday, Aug. 25 marked the official start of racing season for Key West and Marathon. Both teams traveled to Homestead’s Larry & Penny Thompson Park to participate in the 2023 Conquistador Kickoff. Marathon’s boys and Key West’s girls placed second overall, and Marathon’s girls came in just behind their southern neighbors. 

Conchs girls coach Keara McGraw called it a “great start to the season,” saying it was “awesome to see the girls working together to close the gap in our top five.” Key West’s Caylaa Makimaa took eighth place, finishing in 22:58, with teammate Naima Thomas right behind her. Thomas shaved an incredible two minutes from her previous personal record time. Rounding out Key West’s top seven spots were Laira Anaya, freshman Violet Jangraw, Briana Nodal and Mia Steer. Nodal is the only senior on the junior-heavy team, giving the Conchs a lot to look forward to this season and next. 

Marathon’s girls were close behind in team rankings, bringing home the third-place trophy and settling right into the race scene. Leading the Fins was senior Mikkel Ross in 11th place with a time of 23:29. Behind Ross was a trio of freshmen in Rilynn Richards, Maeve Merryman and Sara Robinson. Completing the Dolphins’ top seven were Ella Dunn, Rain Banks and Madelyn Thornton. Though their times did not count toward Marathon’s team scoring, the eighth- and ninth-place finishers for the Fins, Rebecca Merryman and Shaina Robinson, are in seventh and sixth grade, respectively, giving Marathon quite an advantage for the foreseeable future.

Marathon’s boys took second place at the meet, led by junior Vance Bursa with a 17:44 time, good enough for third place overall. Breaking the 20-minute mark early in the season were Mason Buxton and Jakub Bursa in second and third place for Marathon. Rounding out Marathon’s top seven were Tony Bursa, Caleb Shelar, Dillon Shelar and Allan Taylor. The youngest Bursa and Taylor are both eighth graders.

Key West’s boys took eighth place at the meet, led by senior Colbin Hill, who ran the course in 18:45 and finished in eighth place overall. Following him were Andrew Fedor, Sebastian Jaroszewicz, Prometheus Delacerda, William Forrester and Wyatt Gibson. All of the Conchs are upperclassmen besides Delacerda, a sophomore. However, many are new to the sport and thereby likely to drop their times quickly, giving Key West’s boys a lot of upside for the remainder of the season. 

Tracy McDonald fled to the Keys from the frozen mountains of Pennsylvania hours after graduating from college and never looked back. She is a second generation coach and educator, and has taught in the public school system for over 25 years. She and her husband met at a beginning teacher meeting in 1997 and have three children born and raised in Monroe County. In her free time, McDonald loves flea markets, historical fiction and long runs in the heat.