All-News4JAX boys cross country: Bolles star Aidan Ryan found success by believing in himself

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – To become a great distance runner, you must spend hours and hours running, often alone.

It can be a solitary pursuit. It takes a certain personality to enjoy the training.

Bolles cross country runner Aidan Ryan wasn’t exactly cut out for that mentality at a younger age. It wasn’t until he realized the team aspect of running that he began to thrive in the sport.

“Cross country wasn’t originally my thing,” Ryan said. “I really liked basketball and soccer. And then I ended up like just enjoying the team aspect so much and really growing as a team. Even when I set my sights on individual stuff, it was still always about the team.”

Ryan’s individual success played a key role in the team success at Bolles, and it earned him our All News4JAX boys cross country runner of the year honors.

Ryan had plenty to overcome as a young runner. As a freshman, he broke his collarbone running in the Katie Caples race. He was concerned that he would fall behind his peers. His father, Tony Ryan, the girls cross country coach at Bolles, urged him on. As he was coming back form injury, he had to learn to overcome the mental obstacles that can sidetrack distance runners.

By his junior year, Ryan learned those lessons and finished as the state runner-up. A year later, he was an individual state champion and led Bolles to a team state championship as well.

“I always caught myself putting up barriers,” Ryan said. If I had run 4:30, I was like, ‘Oh, next week, I run 4:25,’ instead of just saying I want to run all out, and I want to win the race. So, from sophomore to junior year, they went from times to places and then the time’s up coming and now, I haven’t looked back. I haven’t really like thought about times at all since.”

Putting those mental barriers behind him allowed him to take a huge step as a runner.

“I remember a specific time I had to drop out of a workout because my shins were really bothering me. And it was two weeks before the state meet. It was our last workout that would really affect you aerobically. I was really mad. And then I went home, checked Milesplit and he put out the rankings for 2A and I was projected to win, Ryan said.

“It’s hard to see that people are saying you should win, and then you just dropped out of a workout. Seeing that stark difference, but kind of believing them and not believing myself helped me. And if other people think I should win, why can’t I believe I should win, you know?”

First team

Runner, School, Year

Grant Doherty, Ponte Vedra, Sr.

Had PR of 15:30.40 to take runner-up honors in the District 2-3A meet. Region runner-up.

Jack Dravo, Creekside, Sr.

Had a low of 15:44.10 at the Florida State Invitational meet. Finished 11th in the Class 4A state meet to help lead the Knights to the third team championship in program history.

Christopher Joost, Bolles, Jr.

Took fourth in Class 2A state meet and helped Bulldogs repeat as team champs. Region runner-up. Had PR of 15:40.10 in Alexander/Asics Invitational.

Graham Myers, Fleming Island, Jr.

Excellent season. Shaved nearly a full minute from his sophomore year PR. Went 15:17.8 at Pre-State meet in Tallahassee for his season low. District and region champ. Finished third in Class 3A state meet.

Aidan Ryan, Bolles, Sr.

All-News4JAX runner of the year. Two-time first-team selection. District, region and Class 2A state champ. PR this season was nearly 20 seconds faster than it was as a junior. Has signed with Tennessee.

Matt Ryan, Nease, Jr.

Excellent season as the Panthers’ No. 1 runner. Stretched Nease’s individual state champ streak to four years by winning the Class 4A title. Had a PR of 15:21.20 in a region runner-up finish. Had three individual wins this season.

Tanner Simonds, Creekside, Jr.

Top runner for Class 4A state champion Knights. Took sixth in state meet. Had low of 15:40.2 to finish 19th in the Pre-State meet at Florida State. Had a pair of individual runner-up showings this season.

Second team

Runner, School, Year

Davis Brown, Ponte Vedra, Jr.: His 15:50.8 was a season low and came during fifth-place run at district meet. Took 19th in Class 3A state meet.

Nicolo Fasanelli, Ponte Vedra, Sr.: Posted his best time of 15:49.9 in fourth-place finish in district meet.

Hudson Finocchio, Creekside, Sr.: Clocked a PR of 15:52.3 in seventh-place run at district meet.

Jacob Harvey, Creekside, Sr.: Had a PR of 15:55.1 at the Pre-State meet. Took 31st at the Class 4A state meet as Knights won the team title.

John Keester IV, Fleming Island, Jr.: Went low of 15:45.2 to finish third in District 2-3A meet. Ninth at region and 21st at state meet.

Andrew McGraw, Bolles, Sr.: Had an in-season PR of 15:51.92 in the Alexanders/Asics Invitational. Finished 12th in the Class 2A state meet.

Gavin Nelson, Mandarin, Sr.: Had a 15:51.5 at districts where he finished sixth. Finished 18th in Class 4A state meet.

Honorable mention

Runner, School, Year

Parker Adams, Bolles, So.

Tanner Andrade-Brinsko, Ponte Vedra, So.

Ryan Jones, Menendez, Sr.

Dillon Mantei, St. Augustine, Sr.

Andrew Marello, Wolfson, Jr.

Sam Myers, Nease, Sr.

Danny Sakowski, Fleming Island, Sr.

Alejandro Vinas, Bishop Kenny, Jr.

Mac Williams, Creekside, Sr.

Juan Pablo Castillo-Zima, Bishop Kenny, So.

John Zurn, Creekside, Jr.

About the Authors:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.