Barron Collier freshmen standouts Rilee Morrison and Ada Thomsen, though not representing their high school, helped put the Naples Elite Youth Distance Running Project in the spotlight Saturday at the AAU National Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee.
Morrison and Thomsen’s 4K times of 15:01 and 15:09, respectively, led Naples Elite — comprised of a handful of the area’s best young distance runners — to a 10th-place finish in the Girls 13-14 race. (Only three teams from east of the Mississippi managed to finish ahead of the Naples Elite girls. The meet featured hundreds of young runners from as far away as California, Idaho, Utah and New Hampshire.)
Other top performers for Naples Elite included Palmetto Ridge High freshman Bailey Giles (15:29), Village School freshman Bella Adams (16:04) and Village School seventh-grader Mylee Van De Wouw (16:15).
“This was as competitive an age-group meet as I’ve seen in a decade,” said Naples Elite head coach Kyle Rankin, who also serves as Barron Collier’s cross country coach. “For these kids to have been able to perform as well as they did on a national stage really says something about their character and reflects well on their work ethic and level of dedication to their sport.”
Faced with challenging hills and chilly temperatures, seven Naples Elite runners set personal records.
“For these kids, this trip was all about gaining experience at the highest level and enjoying a memory-making weekend as a team,” Rankin said. “Having so readily exceeded our own expectations from a performance standpoint only makes an event like this that much more enjoyable.”
Also competing for Naples Elite: Village School freshman Lauren Lappin (21:51, 5K), Barron Collier freshmen Gibson Ardoline (15:25, 4K) and Landon Turner (17:07, 4K), and Barron Collier sophomores Chase Howes (19:09, 5K) and Griffin Coots (21:25, 5K).
“I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Naples Elite can develop into over the coming couple of years,” Rankin said. “I’m already counting down the days till next year’s national meet.”