PALM HARBOR — St. Petersburg’s Alex Eaton had trouble navigating the course at John Chesnut Park.
“There were some sticks and logs that tripped me up a few times,” Eaton said. “I got some mud on me. But that’s real cross country.”
Turns out, that was the hardest part of the race. Eaton took control early Wednesday and built a commanding lead, winning the girls race at the Cougar Invitational in 19 minutes, 42 seconds, nearly a minute faster than her closest competitor, Northeast’s Amanda Spring (20:31).
“There was a lead pack and it was close through the first 100 meters,” Eaton said. “Then I decided to take it out. After the first mile, I couldn’t really hear any footsteps. I knew I had a pretty big lead.”
Eaton’s win was not enough to give the Green Devils the team title. That went to Palm Harbor University, which edged St. Petersburg 63-64.
The Hurricanes won thanks to their No. 1 runner, Brianna Paczynski, who finished fourth in 21:18, beating the Green Devils’ Erin Waterman by six seconds. Better still, PHU did it without its No. 2 runner, Sarah Raymond, who was in a soccer match.
“We knew we had a good team in North County,” Hurricanes coach Darryl Southard said. “But we had to see how we compared to some of the South County teams. We’re young. We have five sophomores and a freshman. But the girls have put in a lot of mileage.”
Seminole’s Rachael Hayduke was the other who placed in the top five, finishing third in 20:37.
As expected, the Warhawks dominated the boys race, beating Countryside 33-87. Seminole used its depth to distance itself from the pack, placing five runners among the top 11.
Seminole’s Jacob Hudak unleashed his kick after the first mile, leaving the rest of field behind to win in 16:14, 26 seconds ahead of Countryside’s Paul McKenna.
“It was tough at the beginning,” Hudak said. “I just focused on getting the lead, staying relaxed and keeping my composure.”
Palm Harbor University’s Luke Bushman was third in 16:59, followed by Seminole’s Nick Homme (17:02) and St. Petersburg’s Sam Chandler (17:08).