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SARASOTA — By any runner’s standards, the conditions for Saturday morning’s Class 4A, Region 2 meet — clear skies, temperatures in the low 70s, a trace of wind — were nearly perfect.
So was the Plant girls’ collective performance.
The Panthers continued their staggering march toward a 10th state title by coming within three points of their first perfect score in a region meet. Led by individual champion Julia Rodriguez (19:07.30), the Panthers coasted to the region title with 18 points.
“I’m happy,” said coach Roy Harrison, whose team enters next Saturday’s state meet at Dade City’s Little Everglades Ranch as a solid favorite in 4A. “They all ran competitive.”
On a slow, grassy course encircling a middle school, Harrison watched his team collect six of the top seven places, leaving him to contemplate whether this could be his best team ever.
The facts emanating from Saturday’s race all but answered that question: Panthers senior Caroline Gibson, ninth at last season’s state meet, was seventh overall and Plant’s No. 6 finisher. Junior Katherine Ralston, a top-45 state finisher in 2010, is Plant’s No. 8 runner.
Senior Danielle Kissel, who won last week’s District 6 meet, was second (19:14.90). Third-place sophomore Alex Eaton of St. Petersburg prevented a Plant sweep.
“I’m saying it could be the best team I’ve ever had, but they’ve got to prove that next week (at state),” Harrison said. “My best team averaged about 18:58. They’re easily capable of doing that next week, not on this course because it’s so slow. We’ll see.”
The Panthers boys (48 points), also coming off a perfect score at districts, were forced to claw significantly harder to hold off Seminole (51) for the team title. Plant put four runners in the top 11, led by senior Travis Christenberry’s third-place finish (16:31.10).
Riverview senior Michael Babinec was second (16:18.80), unable to overcome Seminole senior Jacob Hudak’s kick in the final 1,000 meters. Hudak finished in 16:12.10.
The top six teams and top 15 finishers from both the boys and girls races qualified for state. The Freedom and Wharton girls also earned state berths, with the Patriots placing third behind senior Ashley Smith’s 11th-place finish. Newsome and Bloomingdale qualified on the boys side.
Class 4A, Region 2
Girls Team Results: Plant 18, Sarasota Riverview 88, Freedom 109, Seminole 120, St. Petersburg 136, Wharton 149, Newsome 171, Palm Harbor University 176, Vero Beach 204, North Port 279, Fort Pierce Central 337, Treasure Coast 366
Top 15: Julia Rodriguez, Plant 19:07.30; Danielle Kissel, Plant 19:14.90; Alex Eaton, St. Pete, 19:20.20; Kara Halfaker, Plant 19:36.20; Scarlett Fox, Plant 19:39.20; Erica Oosterhout, Plant 19:53.90; Caroline Gibson, Plant 20:14.20; Patricia Lewis, Sarasota Riverview 20:19.00; Anna Montgomery, Plant 20:24.80; Sarah Raymond, PHU, 20:32.60; Ashley Smith, Freedom 20:33.90; Julie Roggeman, Bloomingdale 20:34.00; Rachael Hayduke, Seminole 20:34.20; Jasmine Whitney, Seminole 20:45.40; Jessica Lonas, Sarasota Riverview 20:53.80
Boys Team Results: Plant 48, Seminole 51, Vero Beach 95, Newsome 114, Bloomingdale 181, Countryside 182, St. Petersburg 187, Bradenton Manatee 211, Riverview 215, Freedom 247, Clearwater 293, Fort Pierce Central 347, Treasure Coast 347
Top 15: Jacob Hudak, Seminole 16:12.10; Michael Babinec, Riverview 16:18.80; Travis Christenberry, Plant 16:31.10; Lars Benner, Newsome 16:45.70; Matt Salis, Vero Beach 16:53.20; Curtis Foulsham, Plant 16:57.30; Keegan Flynn, Seminole 16:58.00; John Drawdy, Plant 16:58.60; Jack Dunn, Sarasota Riverview 16:59.60; Luke Buschman, PHU 17:05.40; Sam Powers, Plant 17:07.70; Nicholas Homme, Seminole 17:08.70; Christopher Pate, Manatee 17:10.00; Michael Urbanski, Seminole 17:13.10; Paul Mckenna, Countryside 17:13.30