Plant's girls and Steinbrenner's boys took home the first-place team trophies at Friday morning's Hillsborough County Cross Country Championships at Lake Park. The was supposed to happen, but both squads probably could not have guessed how things would unfold en route to their victories.
Two-time defending Class 4A girls state champion Plant won with relative ease, 28-95, over runner-up Newsome. But just minutes before the race, senior Scarlett Fox, an all-state performer last season for Plant, had to pull out due to food poisoning. Meanwhile, Plant's No. 1 runner, senior Julia Rodriguez, was dealing with mononucleosis but decided to line up for the 5-kilometer race she's been aiming to win all year.
Rodriguez nearly pulled off the win. But Claire Snyder, a junior at the Academy of Holy Names, was determined to defend her county title despite her own issues with a lingering flu bug. After Snyder led from the gun, Rodriguez passed her with about 400 meters to go. But Snyder answered that with a strong suge and re-gained the lead for good in the final 200 and hung on to win in 19 minutes, 21 seconds.
''I could hear she (Rodriguez) was in pain from her breathing and I was thinking 'I feel the same way,' '' said Snyder, who still has some chest congestion. ''But I just had to keep pushing it because I did not want to lose.''
Rodriguez, who took second in 19:28, said she made a critical mistake by not knowing the course. When she passed Snyder, she believed she had less than 200 meters to go, not 400.
'''That wasn't very smart of me to not know where the finish was,'' Rodriguez said. ''I guess I broke down mentally after she passed me but I literally couldn't breath and my legs almost gave out. I honestly didn't think I would get second.''
Even without Fox, the Panthers, winners of the meet since 2009, rolled to an easy win because all five of their scorers finished in the top 15. After Rodriguez, they had third-place Anna Montgomery, Caroline Gibson (fifth), Bailey Sullivan (seventh) and Emory Pitisci (11th). Newsome was paced by senior Briana Jackson (fourth), who was county champion her freshman year, and Stephanie Cajas (sixth). Freedom (129) edged Sickles for third led by junior Annie Tedesco, who took eighth.
Just like last year, the boys team title was a virtual dual meet between three-time defending county champion Plant and pre-meet favorite Steinbrenner. Last year, a senior-heavy Panthers squad won by seven points. This year, the Warriors earned the school's first county title in the sport, nipping Plant by three points. 56-59.
Jesuit, paced by the fourth-place finish of junior Tim O'Loughlin, earned third place with 110 points.
Besides dealing with their own assorted flu bugs on the squad, the key for Steinbrenner was the front-running of its top three: Matt Magee (third), Tyler Lima (sixth) and Tanner Biles (eighth). Magee and Lima finished ahead of Plant's No. 1 man, T.J. Lucas (seventh), while Biles was just one place behind him. But Plant made things interesting by placing it four other scorers -- Jack Guyton, Bryce Weaver, Jason Mersereau and Carlos Andino -- ahead of the Warriors' fourth and fifth runners, Zach Lima and Chris Cerreta.
''Our entire focus was knowing where the Plant runners were the entire race,'' Tyler Lima said. ''We thought of it as a dual meet with just one goal -- beat Plant.''
The boys individual winner was Sickles senior Abdin Fator. He ran his typical race of holding back early and waiting for runners to come back to him. But this time, he said he needed to get out quicker to make sure he remained in striking distance of the leaders. With less than a kilometer to go, Fator overtook Magee for the lead and, holding off a late surge from Newsome's Lars Benner, posted his first county crown in 16:15. Benner earned second in 16:19.
''I was a little nervous coming in because I had faced these guys separately and won but had never beaten them all on the same day in the same race,'' Fator said. ''Everyone was talking about how this race was mine and I had a lot of support today but you still have to go out and win it.''
Results of the Hillsborough County Cross Country Championships held Friday atLakePark:
Team scorers (top 10)
1. Plant (P) 28; 2. Newsome (N) 95; 3. Freedom (F) 129; 4. Sickles (Sic) 135; 5.BerkeleyPrep (BP) 149; 6. Robinson (Rob) 156; 7. Bloomingdale (Blm) 230; 8. Chamberlain (Ch) 236; 9. Wharton (W) 253; 10. Academy of the Holy Names (AHN) 254.
Individuals (top 20)
1. Claire Snyder (AHN) 19:21; 2. Julia Rodriguez (P) 19:28; 3. Anna Montgomery (P) 19:31; 4. Brianna Jackson (N) 19:36; 5. Caroline Gibson (P) 19:57; 6. Stephanie Cajas (N) 20:06; 7. Bailey Sullivan (P) 20:14; 8. Annie Tedesco (F) 20:17; 9. Emily Zwijacz (N) 20:22; 10. Sneha Sathish (K) 20:26; 11. Emory Pitisci (P) 20:28; 12. Lauren Arfaras (F) 20:28. 13. Eliana Ochoa (Br) 20:35; 14. Maggie Parrish (Ch) 20:46; 15. Julia DeYoung (R) 20:47; 16. Mariah Henderson (W) 20:49; 17. Abigail Grant (Sic) 20:52; 18. Kristin Glavin (Sic) 20:55; 19. Maddy Hull (R) 21:01; 20. Hilleary Gramling (BP) 21:01.
Team scores (top 10)
1. Steinbrenner (Stn) 56; 2. Plant (P) 59; 3. Jesuit (Jes) 110; 4. Sickles (Sic) 122; 5. Robinson (Rob) 150; 6.BerkeleyPrep (BP) 175; 7. Bloomingdale (Blm) 176; 8. Newsome (N) 191; 9. Chamberlain (Ch) 273; 10.SeffnerChristianAcademy(SCA) 291.
Individuals (top 20)
1. Abdin Fator (Sic) 16:15; 2. Lars Bener (N) 16:19; 3. Matt Magee (Stn) 16:29; 4. Tim O'Loughlin (Jes) 16:38; 5. Josh Keenan (SCA) 16:43; 6. Tyler Lima (Stn) 16:44; 7. T.J. Lucas (P) 16:53; 8. Tanner Biles (Stn) 16:53; 9. Justin Martinez (N) 16:55; 10. Daniel Dean (Middleton) 17:06; 11. Jack Guyton (P) 17:08; 12. Bryce Weaver (P) 17:08; 13. David Piatt (Sic) 17:11; 14. Max Boreland (BP) 17:14; 15. James Zentmeyer (Sic) 17:16; 16. Jason Mersereau (P) 17:17; 17. Carlos Andino (P) 17:18; 18. Hunter Revord (Jes) 17:24; 19. Zach Lima (Stn) 17:30; 20. Dylan Jurski (Rob) 17:31.