Keys runners representing four schools traveled to Boca Raton for the 40th annual Spanish River Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 16. Monroe County fared well against teams from scores of schools across south and central Florida.  

The top Keys runner was sophomore Vance Bursa, who blazed to the finish line with a personal best 16:52, good enough for third place overall in the 1A varsity division. “Vance keeps improving each week and moving up the time charts for our region,” coach Jim Murphy said of Bursa’s performance. Vance had an exceptional race, breaking into the 16-minute zone for the first time. Marathon went on to take fourth place out of 14 teams with two of their top five runners still in middle school. Behind Bursa was junior Mason Buxton (20th, 18:47), who had a significant improvement from the past few weeks, 7th grader Antonin Bursa (26th, 19:05), junior Jakub Bursa (34th, 19:18), junior Dillon Shelar (53rd, 20:30), and 6th grader Emmett Merryman (83rd, 22:28).  

Key West elected to run in the JV 1A & 2A division to make sure the boys got a race this week.  Coach Mark Coleman said he chose to enter the race after fearing weather would once again cancel later races. The move proved positive for junior Colbin Hill, who took first place with a time of 19:41. Sophomore Jerven Louis finished in second for the Conchs and 13th overall, running a 21:26. Rounding out the field for Key West were freshman Daniel Roy (14th, 21:29), junior Sebastian Jaroszewicz (51st, 24:41), junior Aaron Suprynowicz (52nd, 24:43), and freshman Owen Fisher (60th, 25:03).  The Conchs’ times were good enough for fourth place in a field of nine teams. The girls team did not travel on Friday.

Simon Gutierrez, a senior from Coral Shores, was the lone runner for the ’Canes, taking the 24th spot in the boys 2A varsity division with a respectable 18:21. The ’Canes were not able to run their first scheduled meet last week, making this the first time a Coral Shores runner competed in a 5K this season.

Marathon’s girls finished in sixth place in a field of 10 teams, with a pair of 8th graders taking the top two spots for the Fins. First for Marathon was Madelyn Thornton, who finished in 28th place overall in a time of 23:32 with Maeve Merryman just two places behind her (23:39).  The rest of the Lady Fins’ finishers were sophomore Ella Dunn (39th, 24:00), freshman Ava Merryman (44th, 24:14), 8th grader Sara Robinson (42nd, 24:20), junior Mikkel Ross (49th, 24:22), junior Rain Banks (50th, 24:31), 8th grader Rilynn Richards (54, 24:53) and freshman Ailee Briggs (57th, 25:17).  With district meets less than a month away, it is unclear just who will represent the Middle Keys as Marathon’s top five runners. 

“We have had three races and different top fives for our girls each race,” said coach Jim Murphy. “They keep pushing each other and we keep seeing glimpses of their potential.”  

Marathon’s extensive girls roster allows the Lady Fins to also compete in the junior varsity division, giving them extra racing experience. Rebecca Merryman, only a 6th grader, ran the 5K in 27:13. Her teammates included Shilo Yeider, Cami Wrinn, Nicole Merryman and Tinashay Cunningham, all of whom have been getting faster and pushing the varsity team for spots on the roster.

In the middle school division, Sugarloaf School represented Monroe County in the 3K race.  Jeremiah Clark was the first finisher for the Sharks, completing the race in 13:33. Clark, a 7th grader, was followed by 8th grader Xavier Conception (14:14), with 7th grader Chase Gilbert (14:28), 7th grader Brady Wright (15:00) and 6th grader Jeaven Nodal (15:48) rounding out the top five. Sugarloaf’s David Temple, Kaiden Asencio, Nathan Radziewjewski, Collin Palomino, Joey Westbrook, Zyaire Allen, Cooper McClung and Isaac Roman also completed the run.  

The Lady Sharks were led by 8th grader Jilliam Cullum, who ran the course in 18:47. Berkeley Tripp, a 7th grader, was next with a 19:46, followed by 6th grader Harper Reeves (19:53), 7th grader Hannah Andress (21:09) and 6th grader Payton Melnyk (21:47).  

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.