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As September cross country goes, Saturday morning's North Port Invitational represented a stern early-season examination, with Plant's girls and Steinbrenner's boys finishing in the upper percentile.
Both bay area teams earned runner-up finishes in the annual event, which drew more than 20 schools to North Port High in Sarasota County. Plant, two-time defending Class 4A girls champ, put four runners in the top 10 but lost by three points to defending 3A champ Estero (37 points). Full results can be found here.
Senior Julia Rodriguez (18:28.50) finished third to lead Plant. Classmate Scarlett Fox (19:17.10) was fifth, while juniors Anna Montgomery (19:34.10) and Bailey Sullivan (19:37.00) were ninth and 10th, respectively.
The Warriors boys were led by senior Tyler Lima's sixth-place finish (16:06) and classmate Matt Magee's ninth-place showing (16:13.50). Steinbrenner's 69 points were 20 fewer than Fort Myers.
In the small-school race, Seffner Christian's boys captured the team title with 92 points, nine more than LaBelle. Seniors Josh Keenan (16:08.60) and Noah Lambert (17:30.30) placed second and eighth, respectively. Crusaders junior Sabrina Whiting placed fourth (19:53.30) in the girls race.
Meantime in New Port Richey, Sickles senior Abdin Fator won his second race in as many Saturdays , navigating the sandy Starkey Park course at a modest pace (17:08) to win the Mitchell Invitational. The Gryphons boys and girls swept the team titles.
"It was a tough course, like 75-percent sand," said Fator (pictured), who won the previous Saturday's West Hillsborough Invitational against a tough Hillsborough County field. "I felt pretty good, didn't push myself too hard."