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Winter Springs' Caroline Wells took advantage of COVID-19 downtime | Cross Country Report

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 9/25/2020 By Buddy Collings, Orlando Sentinel
a woman standing on a court with a racket: Winter Springs' Caroline Wells, left, takes a baton handoff from former teammate Elayna Bahr in last season's Charlie Harris Relays track and field meet at Lake Brantley High School. © Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Winter Springs' Caroline Wells, left, takes a baton handoff from former teammate Elayna Bahr in last season's Charlie Harris Relays track and field meet at Lake Brantley High School.

It was a long time between races for record-setting Winter Springs junior Caroline Wells.

But throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, a school shutdown and a delayed start to her 2020 cross country season, Wells never got off track in her training.

And the miles she logged and effort she put into workouts over more than half a year showed last week. Wells clocked a career-best cross country time of 17 minutes, 6.62 seconds for 5,000 meters to blow away the competition on her home course at the Winter Springs Invitational.

That time is by far the fastest run in Florida to date and is ninth best nationally.

“Obviously I haven’t gotten to race in a long time. I really just wanted to come out there and show everyone how hard I’ve been working,” Wells said after a practice this week. “I knew I could run a good time but I didn’t know it would be that fast for my first race back.”

It was a Friday afternoon race held in high-80s temperature, but Wells set a scalding pace and finished nearly two minutes ahead of second place teammate Evie McIver, who also set a personal best with an 18:57.21 showing.

Wells, who was the Class 3A cross country state runner-up as a sophomore last fall, saw

Her spring track season end abruptly when schools were closed last March due to the coronavirus pandemic. That stoppage came after she had run 3,200 meters in 10:33.13 to break Central Florida’s record for tenth graders. Wells followed that with two more personal best times of 2:16.92 for 800 meters and 4:57.78 for the 1,600. But she was limited to only four individual races before the plug was pulled.

It was discouraging, but not devastating for a girl who longtime Bears coach Ocky Clark describes as “the hardest working athlete I’ve ever had.”

Wells turned what was down time for many into an opportunity to continue her progression.

“I really took advantage of having all these months off from racing,” she said. “I trained super hard and got some great mileage in. I’ve really these past months trusted the process. I knew that I was going to get to race at one point.”

Wells' team will run this weekend at the FLRunners Invitational in Lakeland but she will instead do some hard training. Her sights are set on the Oct. 3 prestigious FSU Invitational, which is held at the state meet site, Apalachee Regional Park, in Tallahassee.

Clark said Wells is on a specific training plan.

“We would like to break 17:00 on the big FSU course but you can’t do that if you’re racing every weekend,” the coach said.

Wells led Winter Springs to the 3A state team title last season but the Bears graduated two of their all-time best in Elayna Bahr and Mackenzie Czurak. The current team is younger but was impressive in taking the top four sports ahead of Oviedo, Lake Howell and Lake Brantley runners in last week’s home meet.

Extra points

Timber Creek junior Amber Schulz ran a personal best 17:44.59 time to win and lead the Wolves to the girls team title at the West Orange Invitational last weekend. She was fourth in the 4A state meet last season.

Dr. Phillips won the boys team title with sophomore Joel McConnell showing the way with a 16:26.62 individual victory. West Orange senior was on McConnell’s with a 16:27.08 finish.

Circle Christian senior Sinkenesh Parker, the Class 1A state champ in cross country and the 1,600 and 3,200 on the track last season, clocked an 18:33.54 time to cruise to victory in the Early Hawk Invitational hosted by Lake Minneola. The Centurions, state runners-up as a team in 2019, had the top five finishers to post a perfect 15 score in that race.

Osceola county rivals Celebration and Tohopekaliga have raced each other in two boys invitationals with each winning once.

Former Oviedo standout Angel Vicioso is running cross country for the Florida Gators as a sophomore after a freshman season in a starting role for UConn.

Saturday’s area race slate includes the Apopka Blue Darter Invitational, the Freedom XC Invitational, the Hagerty Invitational and a Mount Dora Christian meet.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Varsity Content Editor Buddy Collings at bcollings@orlandosentinel.com.

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