NEW PORT RICHEY — Kari Grippo is the face of determination.
The Gulf High senior distance runner is one of those who could have become easily discouraged with cross country and quit. But she didn’t.
Grippo was deprived of a year of running by an ineligibility issue. She reached the state meet her junior year but suffered a stress fracture in her right foot and missed the track season.
Call it quits? Nope.
Instead, she was seventh in the Mitchell Invitational on Saturday at Starkey Wilderness Park with a time of 20:27. She does this all while maintaining a 4.6 GPA and working in the demanding International Baccalaureate program at Gulf High, giving her a life of running and doing homework.
Still, she wants to get under 19 minutes, plus is interested in running at Saint Leo University next year.
“Kari is running fantastic this year,’’ Gulf coach Val Lofton said. “She is coming off her injury. She is really focusing on eating right and staying healthy. She is definitely a leader in every sense of the word. She is a leader by example.”
Grippo would have liked a better time Saturday.
“I wasn’t completely happy with it,’’ she said. “The majority of it (the course) is sugarsand. … I’m completely healed of it (the injury). I still have to be cautious about it to make sure it doesn’t come back. I actually feel good because I am in pretty good shape right now.”
Battle of the Lofton brothers
Winder-Barrow (Winder, Ga.) coach Mike Lofton won a little wager with Gulf High boys cross country coach Dean Lofton, his younger brother.
Each wagered the other that their boys cross country team could do better in the Mitchell Invitational. The Winder-Barrow boys took second with 95 points. Osceola was first with 67 points and Gulf was sixth with 191 points, led by James Raymond (seventh, 17:43), who was the top Pasco County boys runner.
The Winder-Barrow girls team was third with 158 points. Gulf’s girls were fifth with 184 points and is coached by Val Lofton, Dean’s wife and a former Gulf runner. Grippo was the top finisher. Katie Buckman was 27th with a time of 22:19.
Officially, Dean leads with three dinners won to Mike’s one, but they never get around to paying off. Their Dad, the late Wilbur Lofton, was a longtime football coach at Gulf High.
“(Winder-Barrow) was awesome out there today,’’ Dean said. “I was really surprised they were able to come down here. They got a little lucky because it’s a little cooler today.”
The second-place finish was a victory for Mike.
“We traveled 10 hours to get here,’’ Mike said. “You don’t want to go home empty-handed. I was pleased with the way everybody ran. We thought coming to Florida would be easy. The kids said that sand is killer.”
Mike said Dean has been a good brother.
“It feels good (to win) but any success I have, I have to give him some credit,” said Mike. “He gave me a lot of advice. I can always call him.”
Raymond, Kerns top Pasco County runners
Mitchell’s Emily Kerns was the top county female finisher, taking fourth (19:53) as the Mustangs were sixth with 192 points.
The field was impressive. There were 35 boys and girls teams each, hailing from from Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando counties as well as Georgia.
Other county times included River Ridge freshman Montana Gottman (31st, 2:27), Anclote freshman Perla Saucedo (42nd 22:49), Pasco’s Clare Hernandez (73rd, 24:11), Sunlake’s Alexsa Antonio (76th, 24:14) and Fivay’s Alyssa Bennett (27:15).
On the boys side: Pasco’s Kevin Hernandez (22nd, 18:19), Anclote’s Stefanos Katsiois (23rd, 18:23), Welsey Chapel’s Dominic Moreno (25th, 18:24), Mitchell’s Kohler Machlus (30th, 18:33), River Ridge’s Antonio Sierra (41st, 19:02, Ridgewood’s Brian Dejesus (70th, 19:44), Bishop McLaughlin’s Owen Clanahan (117th, 21:32), Zephyrhills’ Joshua Fiallo (121st, 21:37), Hudson’s Michael Ordtz (152nd, 23:19), Fivay’s Wolowicz Hunter (144th, 22:55) and Academy at the Lakes’ Alex Burnham (23:15).
Correspondent Larry Bugg can be reached at email@example.com