Entering the figurative final stretch of the cross country season, the lead pack is brimming with local talent. Frankly, we’re expecting a medal-draped morning for Hillsborough County at Saturday’s state meet in rural northeast Pasco County. Most of the eight races should end with at least one area team or individual hovering atop the leaderboard. To prep you for the starting line, we’ve compiled some of the more prominent story lines.
One for the other thumb
Plant’s girls enter the Class 4A race with a chance for the program’s 10th state crown (and second in a row), and perhaps the title of coach Roy Harrison’s best team ever. The Panthers, legitimately seven runners deep, are capable of eclipsing the 1997 team’s school-record average (18:59). Fort Lauderdale rival St. Thomas Aquinas topped them on this very course at the Pre-State Invitational a month ago, but Plant ran terribly that day, according to Harrison. Considering the Panthers’ familiarity with this course, the title — and immortality — appears theirs to lose.
Another Panthers sighting
While it’s a long shot, don’t rule out a Plant state title sweep. The Panthers boys posted a perfect score at the District 6 meet, and fought off a driven Seminole squad last weekend to win the Region 2 race despite a couple of under-the-weather runners. Fellow contenders Orlando Colonial and Miami Columbus were dominant and overwhelming, respectively, in their region races, but the Panthers clearly warrant a place in the conversation. “We are focusing on running our best race,” coach Mike Boza said. “Going out a bit conservative and trying to pass our way to the front by running even splits and closing hard.”
Since placing second in the 1,600 meters at last spring’s Class 4A track meet, Chamberlain senior Max del Monte has worked meticulously to put himself in position for a state cross country title. From his offseason training schedule to his early-season race strategies (where he conserved himself at times), everything has centered around being at optimal strength for state. Del Monte, who finished fifth in the 4A race as a junior but runs in the 3A race this year, will be hard-pressed to overtake 2010 3A runnerup of Miami Belen Jesuit. But that doesn’t mean he won’t expend every molecule of sweat trying. “I think it’s just a matter of putting the last piece of the puzzle in place,” he said.
A Main event?
While statewide pundits forecast a Miami Ransom Everglades-Jacksonville Bishop Kenny showdown in the 2A boys race, we see district/region champ Berkeley Prep as a bona fide contender. District/region individual champ Alex Main is running as well as anyone in his class, with senior Shaun Majumdar emerging as a solid No. 2. If the Bucs can tighten things up in their 3-5 spots, they have a chance. At any rate, we see Main giving defending state champ Bert Irigoyen of Ransom Everglades a serious challenge.
A slew of sleepers
What makes this year’s meet intriguing are the local dark horses capable of making cameos at the awards ceremony. Take Tampa Prep sophomore Claire Snyder, whose improbable breakthrough season — following a summer of essentially no training — could culminate with a medal in the Class A girls race. Similarly, don’t be floored if Robinson’s Brian Sharp overtakes Main or Irigoyen in the boys 2A race. And Steinbrenner’s boys, fourth in their own 3A region, are capable of finishing fourth (or higher) on Saturday.
State cross country
Where: Little Everglades Ranch, Dade City
Admission: $9 (children 6-under free); parking is $10 per vehicle
Schedule: 3A girls, 8:30 a.m.; 4A girls, 8:50 a.m.; 3A boys, 9:10 a.m.; 4A boys, 9:30 a.m.; 1A girls, 9:50 a.m.; 2A girls, 10:10 a.m.; 1A boys, 10:30 a.m.; 2A boys, 10:50 a.m.
Team qualifiers: 4A girls -- Plant, Freedom, Wharton; 4A boys -- Plant, Newsome, Bloomingdale; 3A girls -- King; 3A boys -- Chamberlain, Steinbrenner; 2A girls -- Holy Names, Robinson; 2A boys -- Berkeley Prep, Robinson, Jesuit; A girls -- Seffner Christian, Tampa Prep; boys -- Seffner Christian, Tampa Prep
Individual qualifiers -- Julie Roggeman, Bloomingdale (4A girls); Michael Babinec, Riverview (4A boys); Sarah Hartman, Sickles (3A girls); Katherine Lutton, Hillsborough (3A girls); Amber Duncan, Armwood (3A girls); David Piatt, Sickles (3A boys); Lauren Meaney, Carrollwood Day (1A girls);