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Luke Baxley Jr. wins district cross country

Luke Baxley Jr., John Carroll Catholic High School’s top boys cross country runner this season, leads a pack of runners during a race.   (Photo courtesy of Angel Robinson)
Luke Baxley Jr., John Carroll Catholic High School’s top boys cross country runner this season, leads a pack of runners during a race.
(Photo courtesy of Angel Robinson)

After exerting just about every ounce of energy, Luke Baxley Jr. completed a memorable 3.1-mile journey as an exhausted cross country runner, but also a champion.

In a field of 42 runners from seven high schools, Luke crossed the finish line first to capture the Class 1A-District 11 boys championship Oct. 24 at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne.

Before he had a chance to celebrate, the junior from Fort Pierce’s John Carroll Catholic High School needed time to recover.

“I was definitely out of it for about the first 15 minutes. I couldn’t feel my legs for about five minutes,” Luke said.

And then…

“Happiness, knowing that I worked for that championship,” he said.

Entering the race, Luke was among the top contenders in district rankings, but the Seminole was not the favorite to win.

“I felt I was well-prepared for it, but in the overall rankings I was about fourth,” he said.

Pre-race advice from John Carroll cross country coach Chris Robertson proved helpful.

“Coach told me before the race that I might as well go for it,” Luke said.

Luke stayed in the lead pack for about the first half of the race before he seized command.

“I decided to push with about a mile-and-a-half to go,” he said.

That push propelled Luke to the lead, which he didn’t relinquish. He finished 27 seconds in front of the runner-up and well ahead of most of the field. Only three runners came within a minute of Luke’s time.

The victory was doubly sweet for Luke, whose time of 17 minutes and 29 seconds was a personal best that lasted all of one week. He set a new mark Oct. 31 by running the same course in 17:25 in the Class 1A-Region 3 race. He didn’t win the regional, but his ninth-place finish out of 108 runners earned him a trip to the state final as an individual.

In the 1A state final, Luke said he hoped to break the 17-minute mark, but his race “didn’t go as planned.” He ran through the hills and woods at Tallahassee’s Apalachee Regional Park in 18:30, good enough for 68th out of 180 runners.

Other highlights in Luke’s season included third place at the St. Lucie County Championship in mid-October and 29th place in a race at the prestigious Mountain Dew Invitational that featured nearly 300 of the state’s top Class 1A and 2A runners.

The John Carroll boys entered the season as a defending district team champion, but they lost several key runners to graduation. This season the team finished third at district and eighth at regional and did not qualify for states as a team. Most of the squad should be back next season with Luke returning as its No. 1 runner.

“I definitely think we will be stronger,” said Luke, whose running skills will shift this spring to track, where he had a successful season a year ago that included a win in the 2-mile district race and runner-up in the mile.

 

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Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at kevinjohnson@semtribe.com.
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