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Local high school cross country teams break out the 2021 season at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational

AMERICUS – After a long, hot summer of training that included endurance runs, speed work, hill work, interval training and other types of drills, not to mention maintaining a healthy diet, the boys and girls cross country athletes from the area’s four local high schools:  Sumter County, Southland Academy, Schley County and Furlow Charter, along with other schools from around South Georgia, converged on the SCPRD athletic complex on Saturday morning, August 21 to open the 2021 season at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational hosted by the Furlow Charter School.

Several of these athletes had to get use to a change in the course layout, which proved to be challenging for some.  Nevertheless, these athletes and their teammates got their seasons off to a promising start for their teams.

Southland Academy’s Jadie Burrell (left) is in a sprint to the finish line with Emma Burnett of the Valwood School (right).
Photo by Ken Gustafson

In the girls’ race, Southland’s Jadie Burrell was the first of the local runners to cross the finish line. Burrell turned in a top 10 performance, finishing in eighth place in a time of 24:27.14. This was a good result for Burrell who, like other athletes, prepared extensively over the summer to get her season off to a good start and was not affected by the spread of the COVID-19 Delta Variant.

“Honestly, COVID hasn’t had much effect on me just because normally, I do have to run by myself because I can’t normally make it to practice,” Burrell said. “But I’ve been consistently running throughout the summer and just gradually getting harder just preparing for this cross country season.” Burrell, who is also a member of the Southland Lady Raiders’ Softball Team, went on to say that her training regiment over the summer included things such as repeats, speed work (400s and 800s), hill work and distance runs of four to five miles. Three months ago, Burrell won the GISA State Championship in the Girls’ 3200-Meter Run and finished as the state runner-up in both the Girls’ 800 and 1600-Meter events at the GISA State Track and Field Meet.

Sarah Owen of Vidalia High School won the girls’ race at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational and finished in a time of 21:42.18.

Maria Kilheffer of Furlow Charter was the first Lady Falcon to cross the finish line at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational. Kilheffer finished in 17th place in a time of 25:44.50.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

The next local runner to cross the finish line was Maria Kilheffer of Furlow Charter.  Kilheffer finished in 17th place with a time of 25:44.50. The change in the course layout was something that Kilheffer had to adjust to, as did the other athletes who have competed in this event before. “The race was pretty nice except I really didn’t like the two loops because then you had to do those two hills all over again,” Kilheffer said. “The training helped because we ran the same thing for practice. We did practices in 90 degree weather, so it was nice how it was cloudy today.”

Fortunately for Kilheffer and the other runners, the weather that morning was a bit cooler and the skies were overcast, making it more bearable for the athletes.

Kilheffer’s teammates, Litsy Lepiz and Jasmine Kilheffer, finished 28th and 33rd respectively for the Lady Falcons. Lepiz crossed the finish line in a time of 28:39.44 and Jasmine Kilheffer finished the race in a time of 29:58.23.

Sumter County cross country runner Teigan Pepito finished the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational with a time of 29:27.93.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Teigan Pepito, the only Sumter County Lady Panther to compete in the race, finished in 32nd place in a time of 29:27.93. Pepito stated that the new layout of the course was just as challenging, but not quite as tiring.

Maddie Godwin of Southland Academy finished right behind Jasmine Kilheffer of Furlow Charter in a time of 30:37.67.  Godwin’s teammate, Ella Arnold, finished four spots behind her, crossing the finish line in a time of 31:39.14. Syruis Zhang of Furlow Charter was the next local runner to cross. Zhang finished in 45th place in a time of 33:21.29.

Schley County’s Kaia McLennan was the first Lady Wildcat to cross the finish line at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational. McLennan finished in 48th place in a time of 34:28.10.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

The first Lady Wildcat from Schley County to cross the finish line was Kaia McLennan. McLennan finished the 3.1-mile course in a time of 34:28.10. For McLennan, the long hours of training in the hot summer sun and humidity paid off in this the first race for her and her Wildcat teammates. “It’s been really hot, but I’ve been training over the summer,” McLennan said. “I think I started running in March and I’ve been consistently running. It was tough. I’m glad I trained over the summer.” McLennan’s teammate, Malia Harden, finished three spots behind McLennan in 51st place in a time of 35:56.24. Jaclyn Chen of Furlow Charter finished right behind Harden in a time of 36:05.63. Chen’s two FC teammates, Talana Holloway (37:10.27) and Jenny Santamaria (37:19.85), finished in 54th and 55th place respectively.

Other local runners who turned in string finishes were Kayla Moyle (Schley County, 40:57.19), Sarah Renfroe (Schley County, 41:35.15), Abby Kirkland (Schley County, 41:51.47) and Olivia Davis (Furlow Charter, 43:04.62).

Southland Academy’s Maddie Godwin (left) and her teammate Ella Arnold (right) pose for a picture after completing the girls’ varsity race at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

As far as the team results were concerned, the Lady Falcons of Furlow Charter finished in sixth place with 131 points and Schley County finished in seventh place with 194 points. The Lady Trojans of Lee County  won the girls’ competition with 45 points. In Cross Country, the goal of each team is to score the lowest points possible. Vidalia came in second place with 52 points, followed by Westover with 89. Upson-Lee came in fourth place with 93 points and Worth County finished in fifth with 99 points.

In the boys’ event, Sumter County finished in fifth place as a team with 136 points and the Wildcats of Schley County were right behind them in sixth with 139. Lee County won the boys’ team title with 25 points, followed by Vidalia (36), Upson-Lee (90) and Peach County (107).

Schley County’s Dustin Howard finished in ninth place at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational Meet hosted by the Furlow Charter School.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Individually, Schley County’s Dustin Howard was the top local boys’ finisher. Howard finished the race in ninth place in a time of 20:22.14. “The race was pretty good all out,” Howard said. “The course is a little harder. I’m more use to it being the other way, but backwards. It’s a little different. The hills seemed a little harder, but it was pretty good all out. I got a pretty decent time.” Howard went on to say that he normally runs times within the 18 minute range and believes that he has some improvement to do in order to get back to running within that 18 minute time frame. Ryan Zupko of Worth County claimed the individual championship in the boys’ race as he finished the 3.1-mile course in a time of 18:12.50.

Griffin Toms of Sumter County is about to be the first Panther to cross the finish line in the boys’ race of the 2021 Furlow Fast Feet Invitational. Toms finished in 15th place in a time of 21:00.46.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Sumter County’s Griffin Toms was the first Panther to cross the finish line. Toms finished in 15th place with a time of 21:00.46. “To be honest. It was really fun. I just like doing this,” Toms said. “The course was ok, I guess. There were some hills that bothered me, but it was fine. I had a mindset of mine to break 21 minutes, but I got 21:00 flat so that’s good enough for me. I’m just really glad to be out here with people that I know, people from my team and I’m glad to be here representing Sumter County and I’m really proud that I’ve been doing this for a long time.”

The next local runner to finish the course was Furlow Charter’s Edwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez was the first Falcon to cross the finish line and he finished in 20th place in a time of 21:48.97. Though he was not completely satisfied with his performance in the race, Gonzalez stated that he is happy with the training that he put in over the summer and believes that he is on the pathway to becoming a better runner.

“The course was tough, but the down hills were the best part of the hole race,” Gonzalez said. “It’s overall a better course than it was in the past years.”

Furlow Charter’s Edwin Gonzalez was the first Falcon to cross the finish line in the boys’ varsity race at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational. Gonzalez finished in 20th place in a time of 21:48.97.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

As far as what he needs to improve on as the season goes on, Gonzalez stated that he believes that he can do a better job of breath control, especially in light of the fact that he has Asthma. “I think my pacing was all right. Today was pretty much a good day for where I’m at right now and I hope I can do better,” Gonzalez said.

Matteson Debaise of Southland Academy was the first Raider to cross the finish line in this year’s boys’ varsity race at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational. Debaise finished the race in a time of 24:35.41. For Debaise, it was a matter of pacing and knowing when to push it and when to maintain a steady pace. “My coach said that the course would be mostly down hill and it was,” Debaise said. “The varsity only had to run two laps, which I thought was great, but I could have done a lot better than I did. I didn’t pace myself correctly and I could have taken 10 seconds off my time if I’d worked on my sprinting.”

Southland Academy’s Matteson Debaise was the first Raider to cross the finish line in the boys’ varsity race at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational. Debaise finished the course in a time of 24:35.41.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Debaise’s Southland teammate, Shaw Pinnell, finished three spots behind him in a time of 25:20.59. Gavin Hale of Furlow Charter finished two spots behind Pinnell in a time of 25:39.35. Mason Butts of Sumter County followed right behind Hale, finishing in a time of 26:06.28, and Southland’s Matthew Peck followed right behind Butts, finishing the course in a time of 26:08.50.

The next local runner to finish the race was Schley County’s Nick Allen, who finished in a time of 28:00.74. Sumter County teammates Ian Richards and Josh Campbell finished 49th and 50th respectively. Richards finished the course in a time of 30:03.45 and Campbell finished in a time of 30:05.48.

Schley County’s Nick Allen crossed the finish line at in a time of 28:00.74 at the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational.
Photo by Ken Gustafson

Other local athletes who turned in strong performances in this event are as follows: Wyatt James (Schley County, 30:34.70), Ghufran Bhatti (Schley County, 30:40.34), James Schopen-Davis (Sumter County, 31:09.82), Austin Graham (Schley County, 33:26.19), Kyler Walton (Schley County, 33:33.58), Jacob Howard (Schley County, 33:35.55), Miguel Yanez (Schley County, 34:44.53), Dustin Arizmendi (Furlow Charter, 35:09.54), Edmin Chen (Furlow Charter, 36:05.31) and Marcus Bateman (Sumter County, 38:26.93).