Of all the storylines that will unfold at the FHSAA Cross country state finals on Saturday, none will carry the drama of the dramatic role reversal which pits Pine Crest seventh grade sensation Tsion Yared as perhaps the biggest threat to unseat her two-time defending Class 2A state champion teammate Julia Montgomery.
The diminutive Yared has completely flipped the expected script as waiting in the wings to assume Montgomery’s No. 1 spot once Montgomery, a junior, graduates.
Instead, Yared has wrested the Panthers’ No. 1 position from Montgomery with a career season and finds herself a co-favorite for the Class 2A state title with Bolles’ Mackenzie Wilson, Ransom Everglades’ Bea Ruan and Episcopal’s Morgan Lucey at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee.
"This season started off better than I expected," Yared said. "I put the bar a little high. My coaches and teammates helped me alot. I wasn’t expecting any of this. I really didn’t know. I wanted to go out there and do my thing. It’s a lot less complicated like that."
Montgomery, meanwhile, will be in the unfamiliar position as No. 10 seed despite being the two-time defending state champion.
"It has definitely been a challenge," Montgomery said. "I have been facing a lot of adversity. It has been a tough season but I have been working through it. My goal is to overcome those mental blocks and finish strong at states. Whether that is first place, second place or seventh place. I just have to put my heart into it."
Yared has taken her running to a nationally-ranked level after a sixth place finish at the 2013 State Finals.
She has run under 18:20 on four occasions, including a personal-best 18:08 to win the Mountain Dew Invitational which is No. 7 in the state. Yared warmed up for her Region 4-2A victory by winning the middle school state title in a meet record 10:39.00, demolishing the previous state best (10:54.50).
With Yared and Montgomery expecting to lead the charge, Pine Crest has its best chance of unseating Bolles for the state team titles with the emergence of key runners Mahdere Yared, Amanda Schwartz, Mahlet Yared, Simone Vreeland and Katherine Jovanovic.
Montgomery is facing long odds to win a rare third consecutive state title, holding the No. 18 time in the state (18:27) but does feel a certain comfort level knowing she has saved her best races for the State Finals.
"During states I just want to stay with Tsion as long as possible because I know that she can pull me, because I can do my best running with her," Montgomery said. "This season it means a lot more than I imagined the last two years. Out of all the races this is the one I have prepared for the most mentally."
What: The FHSAA state cross-country finals.
Where: Apalachee Regional Park, Tallahassee
Schedule: 4A girls - 7:30 a.m; 1A girls - 7:55 a.m., 4A boys - 8:20 a.m., 1A boys - 8:45 a.m., 2A girls - 9:10 a.m., 3A girls - 9:35 a.m., 2A boys - 10 a.m., 3A boys - 10:25 a.m.