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On arguably the most blissful running day of the season to this point, Countryside's Paul McKenna was tempted to burst from the starting line of Friday evening's Armwood Invitational.
But he opted for an intelligent early pace instead of a breakneck one. The result was a victory for the pony-tailed senior widely known as "Megadeth."
After a modest first half-mile, McKenna methodically picked off the lead runners and overtook Sickles senior Abdin Fator before the final stretch to win the first-year event in 16:14.90. Fator, winner of four races this season, was 15 seconds behind.
"I know I ran smart, that was the key, it's always the key," said McKenna, whose nickname betrays his passion for '80s thrash metal. "You see everybody go out hard and blow their shorts in the first 800 meters. The race doesn't start until at least the second mile."
McKenna's win marked a Pinellas County sweep in the event staged at the USF Golf Course, where the manicured fairways, sharp turns and subtle inclines made for a solid late-season challenge. Shorecrest junior Alex Eaton essentially led wire-to-wire to prevail in the girls race (19:30.90).
Chargers eighth-grader Olivia Rovin was second (19:40), helping propel Shorecrest to the girls team title (50 points). The girls race attracted 18 teams including two-time defending state champion Plant, though the Panthers' top runners bypassed the meet for a Saturday morning training run in San Antonio.
"My plan was just to put our team in a good position to win," said Eaton, a St. Petersburg High transfer. "We have a big race Thursday against the whole city (St. Petersburg City Championships), so we just wanted to win as a team."
Behind Fator and sixth-place David Piatt, Sickles captured the title in the 21-team boys race, putting six runners in the top 25. McKenna and Fator were followed by Shorecrest's Ross Porter (16:43), diminutive Middleton freshman Daniel Dean (16:44.60) and Keswick Christian's Jacob Endrulat (16:45.80).
"This was a beautiful course," McKenna said. "I could not have asked for a better course. The weather was great, the grass was so well-kept and it was such a great course."