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TAMPA — Just when it seemed the rain had subsided at Al Lopez Park, a final drizzle arrived, as if only to provide a celestial, celebratory shower atop the head of Steinbrenner boys coach Bobby McConnell.
Exceeding McConnell’s expectations, four Warriors runners sloshed their way to top-nine finishes as Steinbrenner — in its second year of existence — outran traditional powers Berkeley Prep, Jesuit and Robinson to capture the Class 2A, District 5 championship.
“I’m still kind of speechless,” said McConnell, a star on Leto’s 1995 state title team. “This is the hardest and toughest effort our kids have put in all year. We seem to be firing on all pistons right now, just running great.”
Berkeley Prep senior Michael Rosenbach, last season’s district runnerup, captured the individual title (16:21.27), with Jesuit senior Blake Lopez (16:28.79) second. Three of the next five runners, however, were Warriors.
Racing in overcast, postrainfall conditions in which most runners revel, third-place senior Alex Newby (16:32.84) led the Warriors’ charge, challenging Lopez and Rosenbach as late as the final 800 meters. Twin classmates Daniel and Matthew Sarver finished sixth and seventh, within a second of each other.
“(Newby) kind of put himself at another level today,” McConnell said. “I think he was able to run with two of the better runners in the state. He definitely put himself up there as maybe a top-10 contender for the state meet.”
The St. Petersburg Catholic boys placed eighth to move on.
The girls race was staged in a steady downpour, with 13-year-old Academy of the Holy Names eighth-grader Colleen Doherty continuing her breakthrough season with a convincing triumph (19:23.12).
Middleton senior Amber Brooks placed second (20:13.37) in her first serious run since being hospitalized last Friday with a pulled stomach muscle sustained at the county championships.
“To be honest, (the rain) was really nice,” Doherty said. “I mean, the rain started getting harder and it was tough to keep your eyes open, but it was cool; a big difference from the county (meet).”
The team title was AHN’s fourth in a row. Five Jaguars placed in the top 13 including seventh-place senior Marisa Petrick, who ran a personal-best 20:50.48. Steinbrenner, behind third-place sophomore Lauren Garris and fourth-place freshman Evyn Moon, was second (48).
The Barons girls advanced with a sixth-place finish.
Robinson senior Michael Shuey collapsed at the finish line of the boys race, and was treated by trainers and coaches before paramedics arrived. Knights coach Mark Altimari said he expected Shuey, who was conscious and responsive upon being transported, to be okay.