Familiar faces and teams dominated the action at the Newsome Invitational, one of several meets Saturday that kicked off the season for area cross country teams.
Newsome seniors Brianna Jackson and Lars Benner captured the individual titles on their twisting, turning course around the school's campus. Jackson, the Hillsborough County champion her freshman year, looks like she has returned to form after fighting through several injuries. She led from wire to wire, posting a winning 5-kilometer time of 20 minutes, 26 seconds.
''Ever since the track season, I've just been focusing on my health by going to physical therapy and keeping myself maintained,'' Jackson said. ''For me, it's been all about getting stronger instead of worrying about speed, speed, speed.''
Jackson's sophomore teammate, Emily Zwijacz, was the runner-up in 20:43, and another Wolves runner, Emily Cajas, earned fourth in 20:53, just a fraction of a second behind Largo's Marina Levine. Chamberlain freshman Maggie Parrish, the younger sister of University of Florida standout Mark Parrish, cracked the top five in her debut at 20:54.
With three runners in the top five, Newsome's girls were able to take the team title with 72 points, 22 ahead of Freedom. Sarasota Riverview (108) was third and a Plant team that ran with mostly junior varsity members was fourth with 125.
Benner, meanwhile, powered ahead of a strong pack of Plant runners to win top individual honors in 17:07. For the past three seasons, Benner has juggled basketball as part of his schedule at Newsome, where he also holds a weighted grade point average above 6.0. This year, he says he might give up basketball to concentrate on earning some type of college scholarship, possibly to an Ivy League school.
Paced by the 2-3-4 finish of T.J. Lucas, Carlos Andino and Bryce Weaver, Plant easily won the boys team title with 24 points, 66 ahead of runner-up Osceola. The next county squad was Newsome, fourth with 136. Plant's other scorers included Anatoly Samaha (seventh) and Lawson Jaffe (eighth).
Considering how many standout runners they lost to graduation, Saturday's lopsided win by the Panthers' boys team was impressive. But coach Mike Boza said his runners have trained hard and listened to his recurring mantra: race as a pack.
''We know we have to run as a tight pack and work together to be competitive this year,'' said Boza, whose 2011 squad finished third in the class 4A state finals. ''We're hoping to get our pack as far up as possible in the big races.''
At Saturday's Lecanto Invitational, Steinbrenner's boys tied Sarasota for first place on points with 69, but lost the tiebreaker based on the finish of its sixth runner. Senior Matt Magee led the way for the Warriors with a second-place effort, while teammate Tyler Lima took fifth. Steinbrenner was running without varsity runner Chris Cerreta, who was taking a standardized test. The Sickles girls, led by Abby Grant's fifth-place finish, took third.
At the Dover Trails, Bloomingdale's boys took home the first-place team trophy with 78 points, six ahead of Robinson. Seffner Christian's Josh Keenan was the individual winner in 16:57, the lone runner below 17 minutes. The Bulls' scorers were Andrew and Matt LeBlanc (fourth and ninth), Ryan Chadderton (14th), Ian Ludden (17th) and Sean McKenna (36th). Senior Dylan Jurski led the way for Robinson with a 12th-place showing.
Wiregrass Ranch and Shorecrest tied for first in the girls meet with 66 points, but Wiregrass broke the deadlock with the higher-placing sixth runner. Nikita Shah led the Bulls with her second-place effort in 20:09, and Alex Eaton of Shorecrest blasted to a dominating win in 19:23.
Robinson's Julia DeYoung (20:37) was fourth to lead the Knights to third place with 80 points.